Production of sesterterpene ophiobolin by a bifunctional terpene synthase in Escherichia coli

  • Wei Yuan
  • Shuang Lv
  • Linyue Chen
  • Yue Zhao
  • Zixin Deng
  • Kui HongEmail author
Biotechnological products and process engineering


Ophiobolins (ophs) are characteristic 5-8-5 tricyclic sesterterpenes with potential pharmaceutical activities. Ophiobolin synthase is a bifunctional terpene synthase (BTS) that catalyzes both chain elongation and cyclization. In Aspergillus ustus 094102, ophiobolin accumulation was involved with not only ophiobolin synthase C25 (Au8003) but also other four gene clusters containing C15 (Au6298), C20 (Au13192 and Au11565), and C30 (Au3446) terpene synthases. In this report, overexpression of codon-optimized gene Au8003 resulted in a detectable production of oph F in E. coli. In subsequent modulation of culture conditions, pentose arabinose allowed a more than 10-fold improvement of production than that of glycerol. To achieve a higher titer, the whole mevalonate pathway and an additional copy of isopentenyl diphosphate isomerase gene were assembled, leading to approximately 24-fold and 60-fold yield increases, respectively. The above four terpene synthase genes related to ophiobolin production in strain 094102 were individually or combinatorially overexpressed with Au8003 to mimic the original fungal biosynthesis. The biosynthesis of oph scaffold was increased by short-chain terpene synthases (C15 and C20), among which the C15 synthase gene contributed the highest yield of 82.76 mg/L at 96 h; the multi-gene combinatorial results suggested that cyclization might be a rate-limiting step. Further protein engineering including fusion tags and phylogenetically based mutations on the rate-limiting cyclization part of Au8003 enabled a further yield improvement (> 150 mg/L at 96 h) in shake flasks. These multiple approaches for sesterterpene skeleton production using engineered E. coli may be applicable for cost-effective, high-yield productions of ophiobolins and other compounds synthesized by BTSs.


Ophiobolin Sesterterpene Bifunctional terpene synthase Synthetic biology Protein engineering 



The authors are grateful to professor Tiangang Liu in Wuhan University for pMH1 and pFZ81 plasmids. We acknowledge Mr. Guofu Qiu in Wuhan University for NMR data collection. We are grateful to the assistance of Miss Yanyu Tao, Shiyu Zhu, and Mr. Jiangfeng Lu for fermentation experiments.

Funding information

This work was financially supported by grants from the National Key Research and Development Program of China (No. 2018YFC0311001) and National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 81673331).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Wuhan University has filed a patent application based on this work.

Ethical statement

This article does not contain any studies involving human participants or experimental animals.

Supplementary material

253_2019_10103_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (1.7 mb)
ESM 1 (PDF 1751 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wei Yuan
    • 1
  • Shuang Lv
    • 1
  • Linyue Chen
    • 1
  • Yue Zhao
    • 1
  • Zixin Deng
    • 1
  • Kui Hong
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Combinatorial Biosynthesis and Drug Discovery, Ministry of EducationWuhan University School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Wuhan UniversityWuhanPeople’s Republic of China

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