Microbial cell factories have proven to be an economical means of production for many bulk, specialty, and fine chemical products. However, we still lack both a holistic understanding of organism physiology and the ability to predictively tune enzyme activities in vivo, thus slowing down rational engineering of industrially relevant strains. An alternative concept to rational engineering is to use evolution as the driving force to select for desired changes, an approach often described as evolutionary engineering. In evolutionary engineering, in vivo selections for a desired phenotype are combined with either generation of spontaneous mutations or some form of targeted or random mutagenesis. Evolutionary engineering has been used to successfully engineer easily selectable phenotypes, such as utilization of a suboptimal nutrient source or tolerance to inhibitory substrates or products. In this review, we focus primarily on a more challenging problem—the use of evolutionary engineering for improving the production of chemicals in microbes directly. We describe recent developments in evolutionary engineering strategies, in general, and discuss, in detail, case studies where production of a chemical has been successfully achieved through evolutionary engineering by coupling production to cellular growth.
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