Longer-chain carotenoids have interesting physiological and electronic/photonic properties due to their extensive polyene structures. Establishing nonnatural biosynthetic pathways for longer-chain carotenoids in engineerable microorganisms will provide a platform to diversify and explore the potential of these molecules. We have previously reported the biosynthesis of nonnatural C50 carotenoids by engineering a C30-carotenoid backbone synthase (CrtM) from Staphylococcus aureus. In the present work, we conducted a series of experiments to engineer C60 carotenoid pathways. Stepwise introduction of cavity-expanding mutations together with stabilizing mutations progressively shifted the product size specificity of CrtM toward efficient synthases for C60 carotenoids. By coexpressing these CrtM variants with hexaprenyl diphosphate synthase, we observed that C60-phytoene accumulated together with a small amount of C65-phytoene, which is the largest carotenoid biosynthesized to date. Although these carotenoids failed to serve as a substrate for carotene desaturases, the C25-half of the C55-phytoene was accepted by the variant of phytoene desaturase CrtI, leading to accumulation of the largest carotenoid-based pigments. Continuing effort should further expand the scope of carotenoids, which are promising components for various biological (light-harvesting, antioxidant, and communicating) and nonbiological (photovoltaic, photonic, and field-effect transistor) systems.
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