Bacillus methanolicus MGA3 is a thermotolerant and relatively fast-growing methylotroph able to secrete large quantities of glutamate and lysine. These natural characteristics make B. methanolicus a good candidate to become a new industrial chassis organism, especially in a methanol-based economy. This has motivated a number of omics studies of B. methanolicus at the genome, transcript, protein and metabolic levels. Intriguingly, the only substrates known to support B. methanolicus growth as sole source of carbon and energy are methanol, mannitol, and to a lesser extent glucose and arabitol. We hypothesized that comparing methylotrophic and non-methylotrophic metabolic states at the flux level would yield new insights into MGA3 metabolism. 13C metabolic flux analysis (13C-MFA) is a powerful computational method to estimate carbon flows from substrate to biomass (i.e. the in vivo reaction rates of the central metabolic pathways) from experimental labeling data. In this study, we designed and performed a 13C-MFA of the facultative methylotroph B. methanolicus MGA3 growing on methanol, mannitol and arabitol to compare the associated metabolic states. The results obtained validate previous findings on the methylotrophy of B. methanolicus, allowed us to characterize the assimilation pathway of one of the studied carbon sources, and provide a better overall understanding of this strain.
IMPORTANCE Methanol is cheap, easy to transport and can be produced both from renewable and fossil resources without mobilizing arable lands. As such, it is regarded as a potential carbon source to transition toward a greener industrial chemistry. Metabolic engineering of bacteria and yeast able to efficiently consume methanol is expected to provide cell factories that will transform methanol into higher-value chemicals in the so-called methanol economy. Toward that goal, the study of natural methylotrophs such as B. methanolicus is critical to understand the origin of their efficient methylotrophy. This knowledge will then be leveraged to transform such natural strains into new cell factories, or to design methylotrophic capability in other strains already used by the industry.