Transcriptional profiling reveals molecular basis and novel genetic targets for improved resistance to multiple fermentation inhibitors in Saccharomyces cerevisiae
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Background Lignocellulosic biomass is a promising source of renewable biofuels. However, pretreatment of lignocellulosic biomass generates fermentation inhibitors that adversely affect the growth of industrial microorganisms such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae and prevent economic production of lignocellulosic biofuels. A critical challenge on developing S. cerevisiae with improved inhibitor resistance lies in incomplete understanding of molecular basis for inhibitor stress response and limited information on effective genetic targets for increasing yeast resistance to mixed fermentation inhibitors. In this study, we applied comparative transcriptomic analysis to determine the molecular basis for acetic acid and/or furfural resistance in S. cerevisiae. Results We recently developed a yeast strain YC1 with superior resistance to acetic acid, furfural, and their mixture through inverse metabolic engineering. In this study, we first determined transcriptional changes through RNA sequencing in YC1 versus the wild-type strain S-C1 under three different inhibitor conditions, including acetic acid alone, furfural alone, and mixture of acetic acid and furfural. The genes associated with stress responses of S. cerevisiae to single and mixed inhibitors were revealed. Specifically, we identified 184 consensus genes that were differentially regulated in response to the distinct inhibitor resistance between YC1 and S-C1. Bioinformatic analysis next revealed key transcription factors (TFs) that regulate these consensus genes. The top TFs identified, Sfp1p and Ace2p, were experimentally tested as overexpression targets for strain optimization. Overexpression of the SFP1 gene improved specific ethanol productivity by nearly four times, while overexpression of the ACE2 gene enhanced the rate by three times in the presence of acetic acid and furfural. Overexpression of SFP1 gene in the resistant strain YC1 further resulted in 42 % increase in ethanol productivity in the presence of acetic acid and furfural, suggesting the effect of Sfp1p in optimizing the yeast strain for improved tolerance to mixed fermentation inhibitor. Conclusions Transcriptional regulation underlying yeast resistance to acetic acid and furfural was determined. Two transcription factors, Sfp1p and Ace2p, were uncovered for the first time for their functions in improving yeast resistance to mixed fermentation inhibitors. The study demonstrated an omics-guided metabolic engineering framework, which could be developed as a promising strategy to improve complex microbial phenotypes.