Carboxylic acid reductase-dependent biosynthesis of eugenol and related allylphenols

Erik Hanko, Kris Nino Valdehuesa, Koen J. A. Verhagen, Jakub Chromy, Ruth Stoney, Jeremy Chua, Cunyu Yan, Johannes A. Roubos, Joep Schmitz, Rainer Breitling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


(Hydroxy)cinnamyl alcohols and allylphenols, including coniferyl alcohol and eugenol, are naturally occurring aromatic compounds widely utilised in pharmaceuticals, flavours, and fragrances. Traditionally, the heterologous biosynthesis of (hydroxy)cinnamyl alcohols from (hydroxy)cinnamic acids involved CoA-dependent activation of the substrate. However, a recently explored alternative pathway involving carboxylic acid reductase (CAR) has proven efficient in generating the (hydroxy)cinnamyl aldehyde intermediate without the need for CoA activation. In this study, we investigated the application of the CAR pathway for whole-cell bioconversion of a range of hydroxy)cinnamic acids into their corresponding (hydroxy)cinnamyl alcohols. Furthermore, we sought to extend the pathway to enable the production of a variety of allylphenols and allylbenzene.

By screening the activity of several heterologously expressed enzymes in crude cell lysates, we identified the combination of Segniliparus rugosus CAR (SrCAR) and Medicago sativa cinnamyl alcohol dehydrogenase (MsCAD2) as the most efficient enzymatic cascade for the two-step reduction of ferulic acid to coniferyl alcohol. To optimise the whole-cell bioconversion in Escherichia coli, we implemented a combinatorial approach to balance the gene expression levels of SrCAR and MsCAD2. This optimisation resulted in a coniferyl alcohol yield of almost 100%. Furthermore, we extended the pathway by incorporating coniferyl alcohol acyltransferase and eugenol synthase, which allowed for the production of eugenol with a titre of up to 1.61 mM (264 mg/L) from 3 mM ferulic acid. This improvement in titre surpasses previous achievements in the field employing a CoA-dependent coniferyl alcohol biosynthesis pathway. Our study not only demonstrated the successful utilisation of the CAR pathway for the biosynthesis of diverse (hydroxy)cinnamyl alcohols, such as p-coumaryl alcohol, caffeyl alcohol, cinnamyl alcohol, and sinapyl alcohol, from their corresponding (hydroxy)cinnamic acid precursors but also extended the pathway to produce allylphenols, including chavicol, hydroxychavicol, and methoxyeugenol. Notably, the microbial production of methoxyeugenol from sinapic acid represents a novel achievement.

The combination of SrCAR and MsCAD2 enzymes offers an efficient enzymatic cascade for the production of a wide array of (hydroxy)cinnamyl alcohols and, ultimately, allylphenols from their respective (hydroxy)cinnamic acids. This expands the range of value-added molecules that can be generated using microbial cell factories and creates new possibilities for applications in industries such as pharmaceuticals, flavours, and fragrances. These findings underscore the versatility of the CAR pathway, emphasising its potential in various biotechnological applications.
Original languageEnglish
Article number238
JournalMicrobial Cell Factories
Publication statusPublished - 18 Nov 2023


  • Carboxylic acid reductase
  • phenylpropanoid
  • monolignol
  • allylphenol
  • eugenol
  • bioconversion
  • Escherichia coli


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