Synthesis of chitin de novo from glucose involves a linear pathway in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Several of the pathway genes, including GNA1, are essential. Genes for chitin catabolism are absent in S. cerevisiae. Therefore, S. cerevisiae cannot use chitin as a carbon source. Chitin is the second most abundant polysaccharide after cellulose and consists of N-acetyl glucosamine (GlcNAc) moieties. Here, we have generated S. cerevisiae strains that are able to use GlcNAc as carbon source by expressing four Candida albicans genes (NAG3 or its NAG4 paralog, NAG5, NAG2, NAG1) encoding a GlcNAc-permease, a GlcNAc-kinase, a GlcNAc-6-phosphate deacetylase, and a glucosamine-6-phosphate deaminase, respectively. Expression of NAG3, NAG5 or NAG4, NAG5 in S. cerevisiae resulted in strains in which the otherwise essential ScGNA1 could be deleted. These strains required the presence of GlcNAc in the medium indicating that uptake of GlcNAc and its phosphorylation were achieved. Expression of all four NAG-genes produced strains that could use GlcNAc as sole carbon source for growth. Utilization of a GlcNAc catabolic pathway for bioethanol production using these strains was tested. However, fermentation was slow and yielded only minor amounts of ethanol (app 3.0g/l) suggesting that fructose-6-phosphate produced from GlcNAc under these conditions is largely consumed to maintain cellular functions and promote growth. Our results present the first step towards tapping a novel, renewable carbon source for biofuel production.
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