Comparative Xylose Metabolism among the Ascomycetes C. albicans, S. stipitis and S. cerevisiae

The ascomycetes Candida albicans, Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Scheffersomyces stipitis metabolize the pentose sugar xylose very differently. S. cerevisiae fails to grow on xylose, while C. albicans can grow, and S. stipitis can both grow and ferment xylose to ethanol. However, all three species contain highly similar genes that encode potential xylose reductases and xylitol dehydrogenases required to convert xylose to xylulose, and xylulose supports the growth of all three fungi. We have created C. albicans strains deleted for the xylose reductase gene GRE3, the xylitol dehydrogenase gene XYL2, as well as the gre3 xyl2 double mutant. As expected, all the mutant strains cannot grow on xylose, while the single gre3 mutant can grow on xylitol. The gre3 and xyl2 mutants are efficiently complemented by the XYL1 and XYL2 from S. stipitis. Intriguingly, the S. cerevisiae GRE3 gene can complement the Cagre3 mutant, while the ScSOR1 gene can complement the Caxyl2 mutant, showing that S. cerevisiae contains the enzymatic capacity for converting xylose to xylulose. In addition, the gre3 xyl2 double mutant of C. albicans is effectively rescued by the xylose isomerase (XI) gene of either Piromyces or Orpinomyces, suggesting that the XI provides an alternative to the missing oxido-reductase functions in the mutant required for the xylose-xylulose conversion. Overall this work suggests that C. albicans strains engineered to lack essential steps for xylose metabolism can provide a platform for the analysis of xylose metabolism enzymes from a variety of species, and confirms that S. cerevisiae has the genetic potential to convert xylose to xylulose, although non-engineered strains cannot proliferate on xylose as the sole carbon source.