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Annals of Microbiology, 58 (2) 233-238 (2008)

Expression of recombinant Pichia pastoris X33 phytase for dephosphorylation of rice bran fermented liquid

Ming-Hui CHANG 1 , Chiu-Chung YOUNG* 2 , Shiuan-Yuh CHIEN 1 , A.B. ARUN 2

1 Agricultural Chemistry Division, Agricultural Research Institute, Wufeng, Taichung, Taiwan; 2 College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Department of Soil and Environmental Sciences, National Chung Hsing University, 250 Kuo Kuang Rd., Taichung, 402 Taiwan, ROC

Received 5 December 2007 / Accepted 3 April 2008

Abstract - The Aspergillus ficuum phytase gene phyA was overexpressed in Pichia pastoris X33 after replacing Buffered glycerol-complex medium (BMGY medium) using 1% (v/v) glycerol with fresh Buffered methanol-complex medium (BMMY medium) using 1% (v/v) methanol (on daily basis) as carbon sources. The phytase activity increased evidently with the induction time, and reached 200 U mL -1 after 9 days of induction. We examined the possibility of employing thus obtained phytase to recover phosphorus from the fermented liquid of rice bran. When the 0.1 M sodium acetate buffer was replaced with de-ionised water (pH 5.5 ± 0.1) as an enzyme reaction solution, there was an increase in the pho- sphorus recovery with respect to time and reached 1.31% after 24 h incubation contributing to 81% release of inorga- nic P from the rice bran phytate. Studies on hydrolysis of rice bran phytate by the addition of different concentrations of phytase ranging from 0-200 U mL -1 produced through the recombinant yeast shows no significant effect in the rate of phytate hydrolysis at enzyme activities of 200, 100, 50 U mL -1 . However, rate of hydrolysis varied significantly at 20, 5, 0 U mL -1 enzyme concentrations.

Key words: phytase, Pichia pastoris X33, phosphorus, rice bran, SDS-PAGE.


Cereals and legumes contain abundant phytic acid (myo-inositol hexakisphosphate), the major storage form of phosphorus (Reddy et al., 1982). Phytate- phosphate in plant-derived foods and feeds are poorly available to humans and monogastric ani- mals, such as swine and poultry (Erdman et al., 1989). Phytic acid is also regarded as an anti-nutri- tional factor since it easily forms insoluble complex- es with proteins and binds to several of metal ions such as calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc, there- by, decreasing the bioavailability of phosphorus (Maga, 1982; Rimbach et al., 1994). Phytases are phosphohydrolases that can hydrolyze phytic acid into less-phosphorylated myo-inositol derivates and free orthophosphoric acid. Microbial phytase enzymes are commonly used as additives in animal feeds to enhance the bioavailability and to reduce the nutritional and environmental problems associ- ated with phytate (Lei et al., 1993). However, the higher production cost of phytase limits its wide- spread use. This limitation was resolved by design-

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ing an efficient strain of methylotrophic recombi- nant yeast via genetic engineering in addition to the optimisation of cultivation conditions. This method helped to increase the phytase yield and reduced the production cost (Han and Lei, 1999; Mayer et al., 1999; Chen et al., 2004). Since the properties and yield of a phytase are significantly affected by the expression capability of hosts and their post- translational modifications, such as glycosylation, a number of expression hosts and systems have been tested for improving phytase function and produc- tion (Haefner et al., 2005). The Pichia pastoris expression system has been successfully used for production of various recombinant heterogeneous proteins (Zhang et al., 2007). Aspergillus niger, capable of producing phytase (Shieh and Ware, 1968; Howson and Devis, 1983) and its gene phyA, have been cloned, sequenced (Van Hartingsveldt et al., 1993) and successfully expressed in Pichia pas- toris X33, a methylotrophic yeast. Pichia pastoris X33 produced higher levels of phytase (64 U mL -1 ) at 108 h after methanol induction (Han and Lai, 1999). The hydrolysis of phytate present in native seeds that were used as feed-additives, by phytase has been attempted earlier (Han and Wilfred, 1988; Quan et al., 2001).


M.-H. CHANG et al.

Rice bran contains abundant phytate that can be hydrolysed to inorganic phosphate using phy- tase. The released inorganic phosphate can be sub- stituted in expensive commercial phosphate fertilis- er in agriculture. However the major limitation step is hydrolysis of phytate, which demands the addi- tion of sodium acetate solution (pH 5.5) as a buffer- ing agent. Although this method appears attractive, neither is economical nor environmentally safe for liquid fertiliser production. The major objectives of this study was to express the phytase gene (phyA) of less investigat- ed member of the genus Aspergillus, A. ficuum (BCRC 32870) in recombinant Pichia pastoris X33 to enhance the recovery of phosphorus in rice bran derived liquid fertiliser.


Construction of recombinant strains. For obtaining the recombinant Pichia pastoris the phy- tase gene phyA of Aspergillus ficuum (BCRC 32870) was amplified by PCR using primers (upstream, 5’CGGAATTCCTGGCAGTCCCCG3’; downstream, 5’GCTCTAGACTAAGCAAACACTCC3’) (Han and Lei, 1999). The amplified fragment was cloned to EcoRI and XbaI sites of pPICZ αA (Invitrogen, San Diego,

CA). The ligation mixture was transformed into E. coli DH5α and plated on a low salt LB agar plates containing 25 µg mL -1 zeocin. Thus constructed plasmid was purified and linearised with PmeI and transformed to Pichia pastoris X33 (Invitrogen) by electroporation using EasyjecT PLUS (Equibio Ltd, UK). The phytase-producing transformant was used for further analysis.

Chemicals, culture media and solutions used. The phytic acid dodecasodium salt and YNB (Yeast nitrogen base without amino acids and ammonium sulphate) were purchased from Sigma, while all other chemicals used were purchased from Merck. Rice bran was purchased from a local supplier in Taiwan. The BMGY medium contained 1% yeast extract, 2% peptone, 100 mM potassium phosphate (pH 6.0), 1.34% YNB, 0.4 µg mL -1 biotin, 1% glyc- erol. The BMMY medium used in this study was sim- ilar to BMGY medium except 1% glycerol in BMGY medium was replaced by 1% methanol in BMMY. As the optimal pH required for the expression of phyA phytase of Pichia pastoris X33 was 5.5 (Han and Lei, 1999), to compare the efficiency of hydrolysis of rice bran phytate by the recombinant Pichia pastoris X33 phytase, de-ionised water and 0.1 M sodium acetate buffer were adjusted to pH 5.5 before use.

FIG. 1 - Schematic diagram of culture and enzyme extraction conditions of recombinant Pichia pastoris
FIG. 1 - Schematic diagram of culture and enzyme extraction conditions of recombinant Pichia pastoris X33.

Ann. Microbiol., 58 (2) 233-238 (2008)


Growth of recombinant Pichia pastoris X33. The schematic diagram of culture and enzyme

extraction conditions of recombinant P. pastoris X33 is presented as Fig. 1. Briefly, single colony of recombinant P. pastoris X33 was selected from the plates and transferred to 25 ml of BMGY medium in

a 125 ml baffled flask and incubated at 30 °C with

200 rpm for 24 h. One mL of this seed culture was

subsequently inoculated to a 100 mL of BMGY medi- um in a 250 mL baffled flask and conditions men- tioned above were maintained. After 48 h of inocu-

lation, cells were harvested by centrifugation (3000

x g for 5 min at 4 °C), and the pellet was resus-

pended in 100 mL of sterile de-ionised water. The pellet was centrifuged, and resuspended in 100 mL of BMMY medium. After 24 h of incubation at 30 °C with 200 rpm, 1 mL of culture media was trans- ferred to a 1.5 mL Eppendorf microfuge tubes and centrifuged at 18000 x g for 3 min at 4 °C. The

supernatant or enzyme extract obtained was stored at –80 °C for phytase activity and SDS-PAGE analy- ses. Further, 1 mL of 100% methanol was added to

100 mL of BMMY medium each day (9 days) to

maintain the final concentration of 1% methanol for inducing phytase expression. The final culture after

9 days induction was transferred to 250 mL cen- trifuge bottle and centrifuged at 3000 x g for 15 min

at 4 °C, the supernatant was collected and stored at

-80 °C for further assays.

Phytase assay. Phytase activity was measured by the method previously described (Shimizu, 1992; Bae et al., 1999) with slight modification. The method was modified to determine the amount of inorganic phosphate released by the enzyme using sodium phytate as substrate. Briefly, the reaction mixture containing 300 µL of 1.5 mM sodium phy- tate in 0.1 M sodium acetate buffer (pH 5.5) and 75 µL of crude phytase extract was incubated at 37 °C for 20 min. The reaction was stopped by the addi- tion of 375 µL of 5% (w/v) trichloroacetic acid. The inorganic phosphate released was measured after the addition of 375 µL of freshly prepared coloured reagent, which was prepared by mixing of 1.5% (w/v) ammonium molybdate in a 5.5% (v/v) sul- phuric acid and 2.7% (w/v) ferrous sulphate solu- tion (4:1). The absorbance was measured at 700 nm. Simultaneously, the crude phytase extract inac- tivated by the addition of 375 µL of 5% (w/v) trichloroacetic acid was used as blank and all other conditions were similar to that followed for experi- mental group. Similarly, a blank treatment contain- ing equal volume of sterile de-ionised water instead

of enzyme extract was also taken as control. In both

control sets no blue color was developed, indicating that the TCA and assay reagent are unable to hydrolyze the phytic acid and release inorganic phosphate. One unit (U) of phytase activity was defined as that releases 1 µmol inorganic phosphate

from sodium phytate per minute at pH 5.5 and 37 °C.

SDS-PAGE analysis. SDS-PAGE analysis of crude phytase extracts at different induction time was performed using 10% acrylamide as running gel and 5% acrylamide as stacking gel. The phytase was stained with Coomassie brilliant blue R250 and photographed.

Deglycosylation of expressed phytase. The crude phytase extracts that were collected after 1, 3, 6, 9 days of methanol induction were treated separately with 0.35 IU of endoglycosylase H (Endo H f ; New England Biolabs, Beverly, MA). The reaction mixture was incubated at 37 °C for 1 h. The SDS- PAGE analyses of the phytase before and after deg- lycosylation were compared.

Rice bran dephosphorylation by the expressed phytase in sodium acetate buffer and de- ionised water conditions. In vitro hydrolysis of rice bran phytate was carried out (Quan et al., 2001) with slight modifications. The rice bran con- tained 1.57% of total P consisting of 76.4% of phy- tate P. In brief, 10 g of autoclaved rice bran (1 h at 121 °C) was suspended in 100 mL of de-ionised water (pH 5.5 ± 0.1) and 0.1 M sodium acetate buffer solution (pH 5.5) separately and incubated with 1 mL of crude enzyme extract (200 U mL -1 ) at

37 °C on a rotary shaker (110 rpm) for 24 h. The

reaction was stopped by the addition of equal quan-

tity of 10% (w/v) trichloroacetic acid. The control group was similar to the experimental group with an exception that crude phytase extract was inactivat- ed with trichloroacetic acid prior to reaction. Similarly, a blank treatment was taken, where enzyme extract was replaced with an equal volume of sterile de-ionised water. The samples were col- lected at 0, 12 and 24 h. In addition, hydrolysis of rice bran phytate was studied after incubation for different time intervals (0, 1, 3, 6, 9, 12, 16, 20 and

24 h) using de-ionised water (pH 5.5 ± 0.1) instead

of 0.1 M sodium acetate buffer solution to study the minimum time required for the maximum activity.

Optimisation of the phytase activity for the dephosphorylation. Hydrolysis of rice bran phy- tate-phosphorous was compared among six differ- ent dilutions of phytase extracts (200, 100, 50, 20, 5, 0 U mL -1 ) in 0.1 M sodium acetate buffer (pH 5.5). All the methods adopted here were similar to the above experiment with an exception of the enzyme concentrations.

Statistical analysis. All the experiments were in triplicates and the differences between the treat- ment means were analysed by students T-test at 5% level.


M.-H. CHANG et al.


Expression of recombinant Pichia pastoris X33 The expression of Aspergillus ficuum phyA gene in

Aspergillus niger and its detailed characterisation has been reported earlier (Ullah and Sethumadhavan, 2003) and functional expression

of an Aspergillus niger phytase (phyA) in Pichia

pastoris was studied in detail by Han and Lai (1999). Apart from this, no detailed characterisation

of phytase gene phyA are available on the ability of

other members of the genus Aspergillus. In this study we used A. ficuum phytase gene phyA to over-express in methylotrophic yeast Pichia pastoris X33, after replacing BMGY medium containing 1% (v/v) glycerol with fresh BMMY medium containing 1% (v/v) methanol (on daily basis) as carbon sour- ces. The phytase activity increased significantly with the induction time and reached 200 U mL -1 after 9

days of induction (Fig. 2). Total concentration of phytase obtained using recombinant Pichia pastoris in our study was higher than the phytase concentra- tion recorded in an earlier study using the same phytase gene phyA (Han and Lai, 1999). Similar observations on the increased induction of phytase was also recorded when the methylotrophic yeast P. pastoris was used for heterologous expression of the E. coli phytase gene appA (Chen et al., 2004). The appA gene was cloned under the control of the AOX1 promoter, which was overexpressed when methanol was used as a sole source of carbon. Quan et al. (2001) reported that a novel yeast Candida krusei showed maximum enzyme activity of 3.5 U

mL -1 . But, in this study we report a several fold

increase in the enzyme production by the recombi- nant P. pastoris X33. The intensity of phytase production analysed using SDS-PAGE correlated significantly with induc- tion time (Fig. 3A) indicating that methanol induc- tion was vital for the expression of phytase. The bands obtained on the SDS-PAGE (Fig. 3A) were less intense and larger than that of A. niger (80 kDa), possibly due to the glycosylation of phyA phy- tase. However, after deglycosylation with Endo H f , a sharp band of about 55 kDa was visualised (Fig. 3B). Molecular weight of this band was identical to the band obtained in an earlier study (Han and Lai, 1999). Intensity of these bands increased notably with induction time.

Comparison between the rates of enzymatic hydrolysis of rice bran phytate in sodium acetate buffer and de-ionised water Enzymatic hydrolysis of rice bran phytate phospho- rous requires a pH of 5.5. Generally 0.1 M sodium acetate buffer is being used for this purpose. When 0.1 M sodium acetate buffer was replaced with de- ionised water (pH 5.5), no significant difference was observed in the rate of hydrolysis between two

was observed in the rate of hydrolysis between two FIG. 2 - Expression of phytase activity

FIG. 2 - Expression of phytase activity by the recombinant Pichia pastoris X33 after replacement of BMGY media with BMMY media and 1% methanol induc- tion in the baffled flask.


kDa M 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 200 97 66 45


FIG. 3 - SDS-PAGE analysis of the crude phytase extracts. A: Different induction time before/without deglycosylation by Endo Hf. Lane M: protein molecular weight marker. Lanes 1-9: induction of phytase from day 1-9. Results are represen- tative of three experiments. B: Treatment with and without endoglycosylase by Endo Hf. Lane M: protein molecular weight marker. Lanes 1, 3, 5 and 7 samples after 1, 3, 6 and 9 days of induction. Lanes 2, 4, 6 and 8 the samples trea- ted with Endo Hf.

treatments during different time intervals (0, 12 and 24 h) (Table 1). Only an insignificant change in the pH value was observed in the de-ionised water added rice bran, after prolonged incubation period (data not shown). In addition, the concentration of inorganic phosphorus increased significantly with time and at the end of 24 h after incubation concen- tration reached 1.31% compared to 0.3% P in con- trol (Fig. 4). This amounted to 81% recovery of inorganic P from the rice bran phytate P. However, the TCA inactivated enzyme and sterile de-ionised water controls did not show any hydrolysing activi-

Ann. Microbiol., 58 (2) 233-238 (2008)


TABLE 1 - Concentration of inorganic phosphorus hydrolysed in rice bran after incubation of crude phytase extract with De- H 2 O and 0.1 M acetate buffer as reaction solutions at dif- ferent time intervals


Phosphorus content (%)

Crude phytase extract*


Incubation (0 h)


0.32 ± 0.01 0.31 ± 0.01

0.30 ± 0.00 0.28 ± 0.00

Acetate buffer 0.1 M

Incubation (12 h)


1.04 ± 0.00 0.98 ± 0.03

0.30 ± 0.02 0.28 ± 0.00

Acetate buffer 0.1 M

Incubation (24 h)


1.31 ± 0.04 1.20 ± 0.03

0.33 ± 0.01 0.34 ± 0.01

Acetate buffer 0.1 M

* 20 U g -1 rice bran. **Control represents inactivated enzyme. No significant difference was observed when enzyme blank was replaced with sterile de-ionised water as control.

was replaced with sterile de-ionised water as control. FIG. 4 - Hydrolysis of rice bran phytate-phosphorous

FIG. 4 - Hydrolysis of rice bran phytate-phosphorous by recombinant Pichia pastoris X33 phytase after incubating at different time intervals. Control represents inactivated enzyme. No significant difference was observed when enzyme blank was replaced with sterile de-ionised water as control.

was replaced with sterile de-ionised water as control. FIG. 5 - Effect of different phytase concentrations

FIG. 5 - Effect of different phytase concentrations on the inor- ganic phosphorus released from rice bran phytate.

ties. Above results indicate that equivalent amounts of phosphorus can be hydrolysed from rice bran phytate by recombinant P. pastoris X33 phytase after replacing 0.1 M sodium acetate buffer with de- ionised water (pH 5.5) without producing any objec- tionable odour and microbial contamination. Simulation of the digestive tract conditions for biodegradation of phytate using a novel yeast Candida krusei was attempted (Quan et al., 2001). Concentration of phosphorus recorded using that condition was only 0.8% after 12 h, which is lower than P released by the recombinant P. pastoris X33 of our study irrespective of the media used (de- ionised water or sodium acetate).

Optimisation of phytase activity for hydrolys- ing the phytate to inorganic P from rice bran Wet sterilisation (autoclaving) of the rice bran did not dephosporylate the phytate. No significant dif- ference was observed between the amount of hydrolysed P (1.16%) after 24 h incubation with enzyme concentrations of 200, 100 and 50 U mL -1 while, significant decline in hydrolysis of inorganic P was recorded when 20 and 5 U mL -1 enzyme con- centrations were used (Fig. 5). Enzyme concentra- tion as low as 5 U mL -1 showed significantly higher levels of P released (0.93%) compared to the con- trol. No significant difference between the levels of P released in the sterile de-ionised water-only blank and inactivated control was observed (data not pre- sented). In conclusion, recombinant P. pastoris X33 phytase gene expression can be enhanced by choosing methanol as the carbon source during the induction period. Recombinant P. pastoris X33 also has a potential to enhance phytase production, if methanol controller is altered in the fermentation process, which has been already shown by Chen et al. (2004). Fermentation of rice bran for the enzy- matic hydrolysis of phytate can be simplified by selecting de-ionised water at pH 5.5. Efficiency of the recombinant P. pastoris X33 phytase is very high and 81% of the phytate P was released from the rice bran within 24 hours of incubation with the crude enzyme extract.

Acknowledgements Financial support from Council of Agriculture, Executive Yuan, Republic of China (Grant No. 92AS- 4.2.3-CI-C1; 93AS-4.2.1-CI-C1) is gratefully acknowledged.


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