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Development of a Genome-Scale Metabolic Model of Clostridium thermocellum and Its Applications for Integration of Multi-Omics Datasets and Computational Strain Design

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Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology
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Solving environmental and social challenges such as climate change requires a shift from our current non-renewable manufacturing model to a sustainable bioeconomy. To lower carbon emissions in the production of fuels and chemicals, plant biomass feedstocks can replace petroleum using microorganisms as biocatalysts. The anaerobic thermophile Clostridium thermocellum is a promising bacterium for bioconversion due to its capability to efficiently degrade lignocellulosic biomass. However, the complex metabolism of C. thermocellum is not fully understood, hindering metabolic engineering to achieve high titers, rates, and yields of targeted molecules. In this study, we developed an updated genome-scale metabolic model of C. thermocellum that accounts for recent metabolic findings, has improved prediction accuracy, and is standard-conformant to ensure easy reproducibility. We illustrated two applications of the developed model. We first formulated a multi-omics integration protocol and used it to understand redox metabolism and potential bottlenecks in biofuel (e.g., ethanol) production in C. thermocellum. Second, we used the metabolic model to design modular cells for efficient production of alcohols and esters with broad applications as flavors, fragrances, solvents, and fuels. The proposed designs not only feature intuitive push-and-pull metabolic engineering strategies, but also present novel manipulations around important central metabolic branch-points. We anticipate the developed genome-scale metabolic model will provide a useful tool for system analysis of C. thermocellum metabolism to fundamentally understand its physiology and guide metabolic engineering strategies to rapidly generate modular production strains for effective biosynthesis of biofuels and biochemicals from lignocellulosic biomass.