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A moth pheromone brewery: production of (Z)-11-hexadecenol by heterologous co-expression of two biosynthetic genes from a noctuid moth in a yeast cell factory

  • Åsa Hagström
  • Hong-Lei Wang
  • Marjorie Liénard
  • Jean-Marc Lassance
  • Tomas Johansson
  • Christer Löfstedt
Publishing year: 2013
Language: English
Pages: 1-11
Publication/Series: Microbial Cell Factories
Volume: 12
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: BioMed Central

Abstract english

Background: Moths (Lepidoptera) are highly dependent on chemical communication to find a mate. Compared to conventional unselective insecticides, synthetic pheromones have successfully served to lure male moths as a specific and environmentally friendly way to control important pest species. However, the chemical synthesis and purification of the sex pheromone components in large amounts is a difficult and costly task. The repertoire of enzymes involved in moth pheromone biosynthesis in insecta can be seen as a library of specific catalysts that can be used to facilitate the synthesis of a particular chemical component. In this study, we present a novel approach

to effectively aid in the preparation of semi-synthetic pheromone components using an engineered vector

co-expressing two key biosynthetic enzymes in a simple yeast cell factory.

Results: We first identified and functionally characterized a Δ11 Fatty-Acyl Desaturase and a Fatty-Acyl Reductase

from the Turnip moth, Agrotis segetum. The Δ11-desaturase produced predominantly Z11-16:acyl, a common pheromone component precursor, from the abundant yeast palmitic acid and the FAR transformed a series of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids into their corresponding alcohols which may serve as pheromone components in many moth species. Secondly, when we co-expressed the genes in the Brewer’s yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a set of long-chain fatty acids and alcohols that are not naturally occurring in yeast were produced from inherent yeast fatty acids, and the presence of (Z)-11-hexadecenol (Z11-16:OH), demonstrated that both heterologous enzymes were active in concert. A 100 ml batch yeast culture produced on average 19.5 μg Z11-16:OH. Finally, we demonstrated that

oxidized extracts from the yeast cells containing (Z)-11-hexadecenal and other aldehyde pheromone compounds elicited specific electrophysiological activity from male antennae of the Tobacco budworm, Heliothis virescens, supporting the idea that genes from different species can be used as a molecular toolbox to produce pheromone components or pheromone component precursors of potential use for control of a variety of moths.

Conclusions: This study is a first proof-of-principle that it is possible to “brew” biologically active moth pheromone components through in vitro co-expression of pheromone biosynthetic enzymes, without having to provide supplementary precursors. Substrates present in the yeast alone appear to be sufficient.


  • Zoology


  • The pheromone brewery
  • Evolutionary mechanisms of pheromone divergence in Lepidoptera
  • Pheromone Group
  • ISSN: 1475-2859
Tomas Johansson
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