A major challenge in metabolic engineering and synthetic biology is to balance the flux of an engineered heterologous metabolic pathway to achieve high yield and productivity in a target organism. Here, we report a simple, efficient and programmable approach named 'customized optimization of metabolic pathways by combinatorial transcriptional engineering (COMPACTER)' for rapid tuning of gene expression in a heterologous pathway under distinct metabolic backgrounds. Specifically, a library of mutant pathways is created by de novo assembly of promoter mutants of varying strengths for each pathway gene in a target organism followed by high-throughput screening/selection. To demonstrate this approach, a single round of COMPACTER was used to generate both a xylose utilizing pathway with near-highest efficiency and a cellobiose utilizing pathway with highest efficiency that were ever reported in literature for both laboratory and industrial yeast strains. Interestingly, these engineered xylose and cellobiose utilizing pathways were all host-specific. Therefore, COMPACTER represents a powerful approach to tailor-make metabolic pathways for different strain backgrounds, which is difficult if not impossible to achieve by existing pathway engineering methods.
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