Cell Survival Enabled by Leakage of a Labile Metabolic Intermediate Journal Article uri icon



  • AbstractMany metabolites are generated in one step of a biochemical pathway and consumed in a subsequent step. Such metabolic intermediates are often reactive molecules which, if allowed to freely diffuse in the intracellular milieu, could lead to undesirable side reactions and even become toxic to the cell. Therefore, metabolic intermediates are often protected as protein-bound species and directly transferred between enzyme active sites in multi-functional enzymes, multi-enzyme complexes, and metabolons. Sequestration of reactive metabolic intermediates thus contributes to metabolic efficiency. It is not known, however, whether this evolutionary adaptation can be relaxed in response to challenges to organismal survival. Here, we report evolutionary repair experiments on Escherichia coli cells in which an enzyme crucial for the biosynthesis of proline has been deleted. The deletion makes cells unable to grow in a culture medium lacking proline. Remarkably, however, cell growth is efficiently restored by many single mutations (12 at least) in the gene of glutamine synthetase. The mutations cause the leakage to the intracellular milieu of a highly reactive phosphorylated intermediate common to the biosynthetic pathways of glutamine and proline. This intermediate is generally assumed to exist only as a protein-bound species. Nevertheless, its diffusion upon mutation-induced leakage enables a new route to proline biosynthesis. Our results support that leakage of sequestered metabolic intermediates can readily occur and contribute to organismal adaptation in some scenarios. Enhanced availability of reactive molecules may enable the generation of new biochemical pathways and the potential of mutation-induced leakage in metabolic engineering is noted.

publication date

  • March 4, 2023

has restriction

  • gold

Date in CU Experts

  • March 7, 2023 11:55 AM

Full Author List

  • Medina-Carmona E; Gutierrez-Rus LI; Manssour-Triedo F; Newton MS; Gamiz-Arco G; Mota AJ; Reiné P; Cuerva JM; Ortega-Muñoz M; Andrés-León E

author count

  • 14

Other Profiles

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0737-4038

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1537-1719

Additional Document Info


  • 40


  • 3