Resurrecting essential amino acid biosynthesis in mammalian cells

Julie Trolle, Ross M. McBee, Andrew Kaufman, Sudarshan Pinglay, Henri Berger, Sergei German, Liyuan Liu, Michael J. Shen, Xinyi Guo, J. Andrew Martin, Michael E. Pacold, Drew R. Jones, Jef D. Boeke, Harris H. Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Major genomic deletions in independent eukaryotic lineages have led to repeated ancestral loss of biosynthesis pathways for nine of the twenty canonical amino acids. While the evolutionary forces driving these polyphyletic deletion events are not well understood, the conse-quence is that extant metazoans are unable to produce nine essential amino acids (EAAs). Previous studies have highlighted that EAA biosynthesis tends to be more energetically costly, raising the possibility that these pathways were lost from organisms with access to abundant EAAs. It is unclear whether present-day metazoans can reaccept these pathways to resurrect biosynthetic capabilities that were lost long ago or whether evolution has rendered EAA pathways incompatible with meta-zoan metabolism. Here, we report progress on a large-scale synthetic genomics effort to reestablish EAA biosynthetic functionality in mammalian cells. We designed codon-optimized biosynthesis pathways based on genes mined from Escherichia coli. These pathways were de novo synthesized in 3 kilobase chunks, assembled in yeasto and genomically integrated into a Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cell line. One synthetic pathway produced valine at a sufficient level for cell viability and proliferation.13C-tracing verified de novo biosynthesis of valine and further revealed build-up of pathway intermediate 2,3-dihydroxy-3-isovalerate. Increasing the dosage of downstream ilvD boosted pathway performance and allowed for long-term propagation of second-generation cells in valine-free medium at 3.2 days per doubling. This work demonstrates that mammalian metabolism is amenable to restoration of ancient core pathways, paving a path for genome-scale efforts to synthetically restore metabolic functions to the metazoan lineage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere72847
StatePublished - Sep 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology


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