BACKGROUND: 2,3-Butanediol is an important bulk chemical with a wide range of applications. In bacteria, this metabolite is synthesised from pyruvate via a three-step pathway involving α-acetolactate synthase, α-acetolactate decarboxylase and 2,3-butanediol dehydrogenase. Thus far, the best producers of 2,3-butanediol are pathogenic strains, hence, the development of more suitable organisms for industrial scale fermentation is needed. Herein, 2,3-butanediol production was engineered in the Generally Regarded As Safe (GRAS) organism Corynebacterium glutamicum. A two-stage fermentation process was implemented: first, cells were grown aerobically on acetate; in the subsequent production stage cells were used to convert glucose into 2,3-butanediol under non-growing and oxygen-limiting conditions. RESULTS: A gene cluster, encoding the 2,3-butanediol biosynthetic pathway of Lactococcus lactis, was assembled and expressed in background strains, C. glutamicum ΔldhA, C. glutamicum ΔaceEΔpqoΔldhA and C. glutamicum ΔaceEΔpqoΔldhAΔmdh, tailored to minimize pyruvate-consuming reactions, i.e., to prevent carbon loss in lactic, acetic and succinic acids. Producer strains were characterized in terms of activity of the relevant enzymes in the 2,3-butanediol forming pathway, growth, and production of 2,3-butanediol under oxygen-limited conditions. Productivity was maximized by manipulating the aeration rate in the production phase. The final strain, C. glutamicum ΔaceEΔpqoΔldhAΔmdh(pEKEx2-als,aldB,Ptuf butA), under optimized conditions produced 2,3-butanediol with a 0.66 mol mol(-1) yield on glucose, an overall productivity of 0.2 g L(-1) h(-1) and a titer of 6.3 g L(-1). CONCLUSIONS: We have successfully developed C. glutamicum into an efficient cell factory for 2,3-butanediol production. The use of the engineered strains as a basis for production of acetoin, a widespread food flavour, is proposed.

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