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Harnessing Natural Modularity of Metabolism with Goal Attainment Optimization to Design a Modular Chassis Cell for Production of Diverse Chemicals

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posted on 20.07.2020, 10:26 by Sergio Garcia, Cong T. Trinh
Modular design is key to achieve efficient and robust systems across engineering disciplines. Modular design potentially offers advantages to engineer microbial systems for biocatalysis, bioremediation, and biosensing, overcoming the slow and costly design–build–test–learn cycles in the conventional cell engineering approach. These systems consist of a modular (chassis) cell compatible with exchangeable modules that enable programmed functions such as overproduction of a desirable chemical. We previously proposed a multiobjective optimization framework coupled with metabolic flux models to design modular cells and solved it using multiobjective evolutionary algorithms. However, such approach might not achieve solution optimality and hence limits design options for experimental implementation. In this study, we developed the goal attainment formulation compatible with optimization algorithms that guarantee solution optimality. We applied goal attainment to design an Escherichia coli modular cell capable of synthesizing all molecules in a biochemically diverse library at high yields and rates with only a few genetic manipulations. To elucidate modular organization of the designed cells, we developed a flux variance clustering (FVC) method by identifying reactions with high flux variance and clustering them to identify metabolic modules. Using FVC, we identified reaction usage patterns for different modules in the modular cell, revealing that its broad pathway compatibility is enabled by the natural modularity and flexible flux capacity of endogenous core metabolism. Overall, this study not only sheds light on modularity in metabolic networks from their topology and metabolic functions but also presents a useful synthetic biology toolbox to design modular cells with broad applications.