Upon coexpression with Erwinia geranylgeranyldiphosphate (GGDP) synthase in Escherichia coli, C30 carotenoid synthase CrtM from Staphylococcus aureus produces novel carotenoids with the asymmetrical C35 backbone. The products of condensation of farnesyldiphosphate and GDP, C35 structures comprise 40 to 60% of total carotenoid accumulated. Carotene desaturases and carotene cyclases from C40 or C30 pathways accepted and converted the C35 substrate, thus creating a C35 carotenoid biosynthetic pathway in E. coli. Directed evolution to modulate desaturase step number, together with combinatorial expression of the desaturase variants with lycopene cyclases, allowed us to produce at least 10 compounds not previously described. This result highlights the plastic and expansible nature of carotenoid pathways and illustrates how combinatorial biosynthesis coupled with directed evolution can rapidly access diverse chemical structures.
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