Trade-offs in engineering sugar utilization pathways for titratable control

Taliman Afroz, Konstantinos Biliouris, Kelsey E. Boykin, Yiannis Kaznessis, Chase L. Beisel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Titratable systems are common tools in metabolic engineering to tune the levels of enzymes and cellular components as part of pathway optimization. For nonmodel microorganisms with limited genetic tools, inducible sugar utilization pathways offer built-in titratable systems. However, these pathways can exhibit undesirable single-cell behaviors that hamper the uniform and tunable control of gene expression. Here, we applied mathematical modeling and single-cell measurements of l-arabinose utilization in Escherichia coli to systematically explore how sugar utilization pathways can be altered to achieve desirable inducible properties. We found that different pathway alterations, such as the removal of catabolism, constitutive expression of high-affinity or low-affinity transporters, or further deletion of the other transporters, came with trade-offs specific to each alteration. For instance, sugar catabolism improved the uniformity and linearity of the response at the cost of requiring higher sugar concentrations to induce the pathway. Within these alterations, we also found that a uniform and linear response could be achieved with a single alteration: constitutively expressing the high-affinity transporter. Equivalent modifications to the d-xylose utilization pathway yielded similar responses, demonstrating the applicability of our observations. Overall, our findings indicate that there is no ideal set of typical alterations when co-opting natural utilization pathways for titratable control and suggest design rules for manipulating these pathways to advance basic genetic studies and the metabolic engineering of microorganisms for optimized chemical production.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)141-149
Number of pages9
JournalACS Synthetic Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 20 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 American Chemical Society.


  • Escherichia coli
  • carbon catabolism
  • feedback
  • inducible systems
  • linearization
  • systems biology


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