Insect symbionts as valuable grist for the biotechnological mill: an alkaliphilic silkworm gut bacterium for efficient lactic acid production.
Insects constitute the most abundant and diverse animal class and act as hosts to an extraordinary variety of symbiotic microorganisms. These microbes living inside the insects play critical roles in host biology and are also valuable bioresources. Enterococcus mundtii EMB156, isolated from the larval gut (gut pH >10) of the model organism Bombyx mori (Lepidoptera: Bombycidae), efficiently produces lactic acid, an important metabolite for industrial production of bioplastic materials. E. mundtii EMB156 grows well under alkaline conditions and stably converts various carbon sources into lactic acid, offering advantages in downstream fermentative processes. High-yield lactic acid production can be achieved by the strain EMB156 from renewable biomass substrates under alkaline pretreatments. Single-molecule real-time (SMRT) sequencing technology revealed its 3.01 Mbp whole genome sequence. A total of 2956 protein-coding sequences, 65 tRNA genes, and 6 rRNA operons were predicted in the EMB156 chromosome. Remarkable genomic features responsible for lactic acid fermentation included key enzymes involved in the pentose phosphate (PP)/glycolytic pathway, and an alpha amylase and xylose isomerase were characterized in EMB156. This genomic information coincides with the phenotype of E. mundtii EMB156, reflecting its metabolic flexibility in efficient lactate fermentation, and established a foundation for future biotechnological application. Interestingly, enzyme activities of amylase were quite stable in high-pH broths, indicating a possible mechanism for strong EMB156 growth in an alkaline environment, thereby facilitating lactic acid production. Together, these findings implied that valuable lactic acid-producing bacteria can be discovered efficiently by screening under the extremely alkaline conditions, as exemplified by gut microbial symbionts of Lepidoptera insects.