Saccharomyces strains engineered to ferment xylose using Scheffersomyces stipitis xylose reductase (XR) and xylitol dehydrogenase (XDH) genes appear to be limited by metabolic imbalances, due to differing cofactor specificities of XR and XDH. The S. stipitis XR, which uses both NADH and NADPH, is hypothesized to reduce the cofactor imbalance, allowing xylose fermentation in this yeast. However, unadapted S. cerevisiae strains expressing this XR grow poorly on xylose, suggesting that metabolism is still imbalanced, even under aerobic conditions. In this study, we investigated the possible reasons for this imbalance by deleting genes required for NADPH production and gluconeogenesis in S. cerevisiae. S. cerevisiae cells expressing the XR-XDH, but not a xylose isomerase, pathway required the oxidative branch of the pentose phosphate pathway (PPP) and gluconeogenic production of glucose-6-P for xylose assimilation. The requirement for generating glucose-6-P from xylose was also shown for Kluyveromyces lactis. When grown in xylose medium, both K. lactis and S. stipitis showed increases in enzyme activity required for producing glucose-6-P. Thus, natural xylose-assimilating yeast respond to xylose, in part, by upregulating enzymes required for recycling xylose back to glucose-6-P for the production of NADPH via the oxidative branch of the PPP. Finally, we show that induction of these enzymes correlated with increased tolerance to the NADPH-depleting compound diamide and the fermentation inhibitors furfural and hydroxymethyl furfural; S. cerevisiae was not able to increase enzyme activity for glucose-6-P production when grown in xylose medium and was more sensitive to these inhibitors in xylose medium compared to glucose.
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