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Alcohols enhance the rate of acetic acid diffusion in S. cerevisiae: biophysical mechanisms and implications for acetic acid tolerance

Journal article
Authors L. Lindahl
Samuel Genheden
F. Faria-Oliveira
S. Allard
Leif A Eriksson
L. Olsson
M. Bettiga
Published in Microbial Cell
Volume 5
Issue 1
Pages 42-55
ISSN 2311-2638
Publication year 2018
Published at Department of Chemistry and Molecular Biology
Pages 42-55
Language en
Keywords ethanol, n-butanol, lignocellulose, inhibitors, molecular dynamics simulations, membrane, molecular-dynamics simulations, programmed cell-death, saccharomyces-cerevisiae, plasma-membrane, ethanol tolerance, stress-adaptation, intracellular ph, lipid-bilayers, force-field, weak, acids, Cell Biology, shra p, 1989, applied microbiology and biotechnology, v30, p294
Subject categories Cell Biology


Microbial cell factories with the ability to maintain high productivity in the presence of weak organic acids, such as acetic acid, are required in many industrial processes. For example, fermentation media derived from lignocellulosic biomass are rich in acetic acid and other weak acids. The rate of diffusional entry of acetic acid is one parameter determining the ability of microorganisms to tolerance the acid. The present study demonstrates that the rate of acetic acid diffusion in S. cerevisiae is strongly affected by the alcohols ethanol and n-butanol. Ethanol of 40 g/L and n-butanol of 8 g/L both caused a 65% increase in the rate of acetic acid diffusion, and higher alcohol concentrations caused even greater increases. Molecular dynamics simulations of membrane dynamics in the presence of alcohols demonstrated that the partitioning of alcohols to the head group region of the lipid bilayer causes a considerable increase in the membrane area, together with reduced membrane thickness and lipid order. These changes in physiochemical membrane properties lead to an increased number of water molecules in the membrane interior, providing biophysical mechanisms for the alcohol-induced increase in acetic acid diffusion rate. nbutanol affected S. cerevisiae and the cell membrane properties at lower concentrations than ethanol, due to greater and deeper partitioning in the membrane. This study demonstrates that the rate of acetic acid diffusion can be strongly affected by compounds that partition into the cell membrane, and highlights the need for considering interaction effects between compounds in the design of microbial processes.

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