Applied and Environmental Microbiology 88(1) , e01531-21 ( 2022)
Clostridium thermocellum is a thermophilic, anaerobic bacterium that natively ferments cellulose to ethanol and is a candidate for cellulosic biofuel production. Recently, we identified a hypermutator strain of C. thermocellum with a C669Y mutation in the polC gene, which encodes a DNA polymerase III enzyme. Here, we reintroduced this mutation using recently developed CRISPR tools to demonstrate that this mutation is sufficient to recreate the hypermutator phenotype. The resulting strain shows an approximately 30-fold increase in the mutation rate. This mutation is hypothesized to function by interfering with metal ion coordination in the PHP (polymerase and histidinol phosphatase) domain, which is responsible for proofreading. The ability to selectively increase the mutation rate in C. thermocellum is a useful tool for future directed evolution experiments. IMPORTANCE Cellulosic biofuels are a promising approach to decarbonize the heavy-duty-transportation sector. A longstanding barrier to cost-effective cellulosic biofuel production is the recalcitrance of cellulose to solubilization. Native cellulose-consuming organisms, such as Clostridium thermocellum, are promising candidates for cellulosic biofuel production; however, they often need to be genetically modified to improve product formation. One approach is adaptive laboratory evolution. Our findings demonstrate a way to increase the mutation rate in this industrially relevant organism, which can reduce the time needed for adaptive evolution experiments.