Kluyveromyces marxianus is a safe yeast used in the food and biotechnology sectors. One of the important traits that sets it apart from the familiar yeasts, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, is its capacity to grow using lactose as a carbon source. Like in its close relative, Kluyveromyces lactis, this requires lactose transport via a permease and intracellular hydrolysis of the disaccharide. Given the importance of the trait, it was intriguing that most, but not all, strains of K. marxianus are reported to consume lactose efficiently. In this study, primarily through heterologous expression in S. cerevisiae and K. marxianus, it was established that a single gene, LAC12, is responsible for lactose uptake in K. marxianus. Strains that failed to transport lactose showed variation in 13 amino acids in the Lac12p protein, rendering the protein non-functional for lactose transport. Genome analysis showed that the LAC12 gene is present in four copies in the subtelomeric regions of three different chromosomes but only the ancestral LAC12 gene encodes a functional lactose transporter. Other copies of LAC12 may be non-functional or have alternative substrates. The analysis raises some interesting questions regarding the evolution of sugar transporters in K. marxianus.Graphical Abstract Figure.
Changes in the sequence of Kluyveromyces marxianus lactose permease are responsible for lactose consumption variability observed among different strains.