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Development of a bacterial propionate-biosensor for anaerobic digestion monitoring

2018-02-01, Sweeney, Joseph B., Murphy, Cormac D., McDonnell, Kevin

Monitoring anaerobic digestion (AD) leachate for changes in acetate and propionate concentrations is essential for effective AD operation. In this paper the development of a novel propionate cell-based biosensor is described. A previously designed E. coli mutant (IMD Wldgy) that could selectively determine acetate concentrations in synthetic leachates, based on oxygen uptake measurements, was used as a starting point in the development of a propionate biosensor. However, the propionate-grown IMD Wldgy cells exhibited extremely low propionate:acetate O2 consumption ratios (1:2.4). Screening for alternative propionate-grown E. coli strains naturally possessing a more favourable propionate:acetate O2 consumption ratio identified strain IMD 1, which exhibited a positive ratio (1.6:1). To improve the selectivity of the strain, successive gene knockouts were performed generating the IMD 1 hldgyep mutant. However, propionate-grown IMD 1hdlgyep's O2 consumption ratio was deemed too low to be considered as a propionate detecting bio-element. It was reasoned that the mechanisms by which E. coli activates acetate had to be removed. Deleting acs (acetyl-CoA synthesase) and ackA (acetate kinase) from IMD Wldgyep, resulted in an E. coli IMD Wldgyepak knockout mutant that, when grown on propionate, produced a mean propionate:acetate O2 consumption ratio of approx. 13:1. The resulting IMD Wldgyep and IMD Wldgyepak strains, which formed the acetate- and propionate-biosensor, respectively, were capable of detecting acetate and propionate concentrations ranging from 0.05 mM to 4.5 mM within two-phase AD synthetic leachates.