Identification and functional analysis of the geranylgeranyl pyrophosphate synthase gene (crtE) and phytoene synthase gene (crtB) for carotenoid biosynthesis in Euglena gracilis

Shota Kato, Shinichi Takaichi, Takahiro Ishikawa, Masashi Asahina, Senji Takahashi, Tomoko Shinomura
BMC Plant Biology 2016, 16: 4

BACKGROUND: Euglena gracilis, a unicellular phytoflagellate within Euglenida, has attracted much attention as a potential feedstock for renewable energy production. In outdoor open-pond cultivation for biofuel production, excess direct sunlight can inhibit photosynthesis in this alga and decrease its productivity. Carotenoids play important roles in light harvesting during photosynthesis and offer photoprotection for certain non-photosynthetic and photosynthetic organisms including cyanobacteria, algae, and higher plants. Although, Euglenida contains β-carotene and xanthophylls (such as zeaxanthin, diatoxanthin, diadinoxanthin and 9'-cis neoxanthin), the pathway of carotenoid biosynthesis has not been elucidated.

RESULTS: To clarify the carotenoid biosynthetic pathway in E. gracilis, we searched for the putative E. gracilis geranylgeranyl pyrophosphate (GGPP) synthase gene (crtE) and phytoene synthase gene (crtB) by tblastn searches from RNA-seq data and obtained their cDNAs. Complementation experiments in Escherichia coli with carotenoid biosynthetic genes of Pantoea ananatis showed that E. gracilis crtE (EgcrtE) and EgcrtB cDNAs encode GGPP synthase and phytoene synthase, respectively. Phylogenetic analyses indicated that the predicted proteins of EgcrtE and EgcrtB belong to a clade distinct from a group of GGPP synthase and phytoene synthase proteins, respectively, of algae and higher plants. In addition, we investigated the effects of light stress on the expression of crtE and crtB in E. gracilis. Continuous illumination at 460 or 920 μmol m(-2) s(-1) at 25 °C decreased the E. gracilis cell concentration by 28-40 % and 13-91 %, respectively, relative to the control light intensity (55 μmol m(-2) s(-1)). When grown under continuous light at 920 μmol m(-2) s(-1), the algal cells turned reddish-orange and showed a 1.3-fold increase in the crtB expression. In contrast, EgcrtE expression was not significantly affected by the light-stress treatments examined.

CONCLUSIONS: We identified genes encoding CrtE and CrtB in E. gracilis and found that their protein products catalyze the early steps of carotenoid biosynthesis. Further, we found that the response of the carotenoid biosynthetic pathway to light stress in E. gracilis is controlled, at least in part, by the level of crtB transcription. This is the first functional analysis of crtE and crtB in Euglena.

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