Organelle-dependent polyprotein designs enable stoichiometric expression of nitrogen fixation components targeted to mitochondria.

gold Gold open access

Introducing nitrogen fixation (nif???) genes into eukaryotic genomes and targeting Nif components to mitochondria or chloroplasts is a promising strategy for engineering nitrogen-fixing plants. A prerequisite for achieving nitrogen fixation in crops is stable and stoichiometric expression of each component in organelles. Previously, we designed a polyprotein-based nitrogenase system depending on Tobacco Etch Virus protease (TEVp) to release functional Nif components from five polyproteins. Although this system satisfies the demand for specific expression ratios of Nif components in Escherichia coli, we encountered issues with TEVp cleavage of polyproteins targeted to yeast mitochondria. To overcome this obstacle, a version of the Nif polyprotein system was constructed by replacing TEVp cleavage sites with minimal peptide sequences, identified by knowledge-based engineering, that are susceptible to cleavage by the endogenous mitochondrial-processing peptidase. This replacement not only further reduces the number of genes required, but also prevents potential precleavage of polyproteins outside the target organelle. This version of the polyprotein-based nitrogenase system achieved levels of nitrogenase activity in E. coli, comparable to those observed with the TEVp-based polyprotein nitrogenase system. When applied to yeast mitochondria, stable and balanced expression of Nif components was realized. This strategy has potential advantages, not only for transferring nitrogen fixation to eukaryotic cells, but also for the engineering of other metabolic pathways that require mitochondrial compartmentalization.