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The genetic engineering of microbial cell factories is a sustainable alternative to the chemical synthesis of organic compounds. Successful metabolic engineering often depends on manipulating several enzymes, requiring multiple transformation steps and selection markers, as well as protein assembly and efficient substrate channeling. Naturally occurring fusion genes encoding two or more enzymatic functions may offer an opportunity to simplify the engineering process and to generate ready-made protein modules, but their functionality in heterologous systems remains to be tested. Here we show that heterologous expression of a fusion enzyme from the marine alga Micromonas pusilla, comprising a mannitol-1-phosphate dehydrogenase and a mannitol-1-phosphatase, leads to synthesis of mannitol by Escherichia coli and by the cyanobacterium Synechococcus sp. PCC 7002. Neither of the heterologous systems naturally produces this sugar alcohol, which is widely used in food, pharmaceutical, medical and chemical industries. While the mannitol production rates obtained by single-gene manipulation were lower than those previously achieved after pathway optimization with multiple genes, our findings show that naturally occurring fusion proteins can offer simple building blocks for the assembly and optimization of recombinant metabolic pathways.
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