The induction of cellulase production by insoluble carbon source cellulose was a common and efficient strategy, but has some drawbacks, such as difficult fermentation operation, substantial cellulase loss, long fermentation time, and high energy-consumption, resulting in high cost of cellulase production in industry. These drawbacks can be overcome if soluble carbon sources are utilized as the inducers for cellulase production. However, until now the induction efficiency of most soluble carbon sources, especially lactose and glucose, is still inferior to cellulose despite extensive efforts have been made by either optimizing the fermentation process or constructing the recombinant strains. Therefore, strain improvement by metabolic engineering for high induction efficiency of soluble carbon sources is of great interest.
Trichoderma reesei mutant SEU-7 was constructed from T. reesei RUT-C30 with the overexpression of endogenous gene β-glucosidase (BGL1) by insertional mutagenesis via Agrobacterium tumefaciens-mediated transformation (AMT). Compared to RUT-C30, SEU-7 displays substantially enhanced activities of both cellulase and hemicellulase when grown on either lactose or cellulose. The induction efficiency with lactose was found to be higher than cellulose in strain SEU-7. To the best of our knowledge, we achieved the highest FPase activity in SEU-7 in both batch culture (13.0 IU/mL) and fed-batch culture (47.0 IU/mL) on lactose. Moreover, SEU-7 displayed unrivaled pNPGase activity on lactose in both batch culture (81.0 IU/mL) and fed-batch culture (144.0 IU/mL) as compared to the other reported T. reesei strains in the literature grown in batch or fed-batch experiments on cellulose or lactose. This superiority of SEU-7 over RUT-C30 improves markedly the saccharification ability of SEU-7 on pretreated corn stover. The overexpression of gene BGL1 was found either at the mRNA or at the protein level in the mutant strains with increased cellulase production in comparison with RUT-C30, but only SEU-7 displayed much higher expression of gene BGL1 on lactose than on cellulose. Two copies of gene BGL1 were inserted into the chromosome of T. reesei SEU-7 between KI911141.1:347357 and KI911141.1:347979, replacing the original 623-bp fragment that is not within any genes' coding region. The qRT-PCR analysis revealed that the mRNA levels of both cellulase and hemicellulase were upregulated significantly in SEU-7, together with the MFS transporter CRT1 and the XYR1 nuclear importer KAP8.
Recombinant T. reesei SEU-7 displays hyper-production of both cellulase and hemicellulase on lactose with the highest FPase activity and pNPGase activity for T. reesei, enabling highly efficient saccharification of pretreated biomass. For the first time, the induction efficiency for cellulase production by lactose in T. reesei was reported to be higher than that by cellulose. This outperformance of T. reesei SEU-7, which is strain-specific, is attributed to both the overexpression of gene BGL and the collateral mutation. Moreover, the increased transcription levels of cellulase genes, the related transcription factors, and the MFS transporter CRT1 contribute to the outstanding cellulase production of SEU-7. Our research advances strain improvement to enhance the induction efficiency of soluble carbon sources to produce cost-effective cellulase and hemicellulase in industry.