Metabolic engineering for the overproduction of high-value small molecules is dependent upon techniques in directed evolution to improve production titers. The majority of small molecules targeted for overproduction are inconspicuous and cannot be readily obtained by screening. We provide a review on the development of high-throughput colorimetric, fluorescent, and growth-coupled screening techniques, enabling inconspicuous small-molecule detection. We first outline constraints on throughput imposed during the standard directed evolution workflow (library construction, transformation, and screening) and establish a screening and selection ladder on the basis of small-molecule assay throughput and sensitivity. An in-depth analysis of demonstrated screening and selection approaches for small-molecule detection is provided. Particular focus is placed on in vivo biosensor-based detection methods that reduce or eliminate in vitro assay manipulations and increase throughput. We conclude by providing our prospectus for the future, focusing on transcription factor-based detection systems as a natural microbial mode of small-molecule detection.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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