Microb Cell Fact. 2022 Dec 25;21(1):273. doi: 10.1186/s12934-022-01999-8.
BACKGROUND: Clostridium thermocellum is a promising candidate for consolidated bioprocessing of lignocellulosic biomass to ethanol. The low ethanol tolerance of this microorganism is one of the remaining obstacles to industrial implementation. Ethanol inhibition can be caused by end-product inhibition and/or chaotropic-induced stress resulting in increased membrane fluidization and disruption of macromolecules. The highly reversible glycolysis of C. thermocellum might be especially sensitive to end-product inhibition. The chaotropic effect of ethanol is known to increase with temperature. This study explores the relative contributions of these two aspects to investigate and possibly mitigate ethanol-induced stress in growing and non-growing C. thermocellum cultures.
RESULTS: To separate chaotropic from thermodynamic effects of ethanol toxicity, a non-ethanol producing strain AVM062 (Pclo1313_2638::ldh* ∆adhE) was constructed by deleting the bifunctional acetaldehyde/alcohol dehydrogenase gene, adhE, in a lactate-overproducing strain. Exogenously added ethanol lowered the growth rate of both wild-type and the non-ethanol producing mutant. The mutant strain grew quicker than the wild-type at 50 and 55 °C for ethanol concentrations ≥ 10 g L-1 and was able to reach higher maximum OD600 at all ethanol concentrations and temperatures. For the wild-type, the maximum OD600 and relative growth rates were higher at 45 and 50 °C, compared to 55 °C, for ethanol concentrations ≥ 15 g L-1. For the mutant strain, no positive effect on growth was observed at lower temperatures. Growth-arrested cells of the wild-type demonstrated improved fermentative capacity over time in the presence of ethanol concentrations up to 40 g L-1 at 45 and 50 °C compared to 55 °C.
CONCLUSION: Positive effects of temperature on ethanol tolerance were limited to wild-type C. thermocellum and are likely related to mechanisms involved in the ethanol-formation pathway and redox cofactor balancing. Lowering the cultivation temperature provides an attractive strategy to improve growth and fermentative capacity at high ethanol titres in high-cellulose loading batch cultivations. Finally, non-ethanol producing strains are useful platform strains to study the effects of chaotropicity and thermodynamics related to ethanol toxicity and allow for deeper understanding of growth and/or fermentation cessation under industrially relevant conditions.