mSystems 7(4) , e00348-22 ( 2022)
Microbial tolerance to organic solvents such as ionic liquids (ILs) is a robust phenotype beneficial for novel biotransformation. While most microbes become inhibited in 1% to 5% (vol/vol) IL (e.g., 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium acetate), we engineered a robust Yarrowia lipolytica strain (YlCW001) that tolerates a record high of 18% (vol/vol) IL via adaptive laboratory evolution. Yet, genotypes conferring high IL tolerance in YlCW001 remain to be discovered. In this study, we shed light on the underlying cellular processes that enable robust Y. lipolytica to thrive in inhibitory ILs. By using dynamic transcriptome sequencing (RNA-Seq) data, we introduced Gene Coexpression Connectivity (GeCCo) as a metric to discover genotypes conferring desirable phenotypes that might not be found by the conventional differential expression (DE) approaches. GeCCo selects genes based on their number of coexpressed genes in a subnetwork of upregulated genes by the target phenotype. We experimentally validated GeCCo by reverse engineering a high-IL-tolerance phenotype in wild-type Y. lipolytica. We found that gene targets selected by both DE and GeCCo exhibited the best statistical chance at increasing IL tolerance when individually overexpressed. Remarkably, the best combination of dual-overexpression genes was genes selected by GeCCo alone. This nonintuitive combination of genes, BRN1 and OYE2, is involved in guiding/regulating mitotic cell division, chromatin segregation/condensation, microtubule and cytoskeletal organization, and Golgi vesicle transport. IMPORTANCE Cellular robustness to cope with stressors is an important phenotype. Y. lipolytica is an industrial robust oleaginous yeast that has recently been discovered to tolerate record high concentrations of ILs, beneficial for novel biotransformation in organic solvents. However, genotypes that link to IL tolerance in Y. lipolytica are largely unknown. Due to the complex IL-tolerant phenotype, conventional gene discovery and validation based on differential gene expression approaches are time-consuming due to a large search space and might encounter a high false-discovery rate. Here, using the developed Gene Coexpression Connectivity (GeCCo) method, we identified and validated a subset of most promising gene targets conferring the IL-tolerant phenotypes and shed light on their potential mechanisms. We anticipate GeCCo being a useful method to discover the genotype-to-phenotype link.