Microbial production of the plant flavanone hesperetin from caffeic acid

Erik K.R. Hanko, João Correia, Caio S. Souza, Alison Green, Jakub Chromy, Ruth Stoney, Cunyu Yan, Eriko Takano, Diana Lousa, Cláudio M. Soares, Rainer Breitling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
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Objective: Hesperetin is an important O-methylated flavonoid produced by citrus fruits and of potential pharmaceutical relevance. The microbial biosynthesis of hesperetin could be a viable alternative to plant extraction, as plant extracts often yield complex mixtures of different flavonoids making it challenging to isolate pure compounds. In this study, hesperetin was produced from caffeic acid in the microbial host Escherichia coli. We combined a previously optimised pathway for the biosynthesis of the intermediate flavanone eriodictyol with a combinatorial library of plasmids expressing three candidate flavonoid O-methyltransferases. Moreover, we endeavoured to improve the position specificity of CCoAOMT7, a flavonoid O-methyltransferase from Arabidopsis thaliana that has been demonstrated to O-methylate eriodictyol in both the para- and meta-position, thus leading to a mixture of hesperetin and homoeriodictyol. Results: The best performing flavonoid O-methyltransferase in our screen was found to be CCoAOMT7, which could produce up to 14.6 mg/L hesperetin and 3.8 mg/L homoeriodictyol from 3 mM caffeic acid in E. coli 5-alpha. Using a platform for enzyme engineering that scans the mutational space of selected key positions, predicting their structures using homology modelling and inferring their potential catalytic improvement using docking simulations, we were able to identify a CCoAOMT7 mutant with a two-fold higher position specificity for hesperetin. The mutant’s catalytic activity, however, was considerably diminished. Our findings suggest that hesperetin can be created from central carbon metabolism in E. coli following the introduction of a caffeic acid biosynthesis pathway.

Original languageEnglish
Article number343
JournalBMC Research Notes
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


  • Biosynthesis
  • Combinatorial library
  • Enzyme engineering
  • Flavonoid
  • Hesperetin
  • Homoeriodictyol
  • O-methyltransferase


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