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Multiple Rounds of In Vivo Random Mutagenesis and Selection in Vibrio natriegens Result in Substantial Increases in REE Binding Capacity

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posted on 2023-12-06, 18:40 authored by Sean Medin, Anastacia Dressel, David A. Specht, Timothy J. Sheppard, Megan E. Holycross, Matthew C. Reid, Esteban Gazel, Mingming Wu, Buz Barstow
Rare earth elements (REE) are essential ingredients in many modern technologies, yet their purification remains either environmentally harmful or economically unviable. Adsorption, or biosorption, of REE onto bacterial cell membranes offers a sustainable alternative to traditional solvent extraction methods. But in order for biosorption-based REE purification to compete economically, the capacity and specificity of biosorption sites must be enhanced. Although there have been some recent advances in characterizing the genetics of REE-biosorption, the variety and complexity of bacterial membrane surface sites make targeted genetic engineering difficult. Here, we propose using multiple rounds of in vivo random mutagenesis induced by the MP6 plasmid combined with plate-throughput REE-biosorption screening to improve a microbe’s capacity and selectivity for biosorbing REE. We engineered a strain of Vibrio natriegens capable of biosorbing 210% more dysprosium compared to the wild-type and produced selectivity improvements of up to 50% between the lightest (lanthanum) and heaviest (lutetium) REE. We believe that mutations we observed in ABC transporters as well as a nonessential protein in the BAM outer membrane β-barrel protein insertion complex likely contribute to somebut almost certainly not allof the biosorption changes we observed. Given the ease of finding significant biosorption mutants, these results highlight just how many genes likely contribute to biosorption as well as the power of random mutagenesis in identifying genes of interest and optimizing a biological system for a task.

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