Send to:

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
Biotechnol Adv. 2003 Dec;22(1-2):35-43.

The concept of multiple-nutrient-limited growth of microorganisms and its application in biotechnological processes.

Author information

  • 1Department of Microbiology, Swiss Federal Institute for Environmental Science and Technology (EAWAG), P.O. Box 611, Uberlandstrasse 133, CH-8600 Dübendorf, Switzerland.


The "law of the minimum" (Liebig's law) states that usually one nutrient restricts the maximum quantity of biomass that can be produced within a system, whereas all other nutrients are in excess. This general rule has been applied also to the growth of microorganisms, e.g., by adjusting the relative concentrations of the individual nutrients in growth media such that one of them, in the case of heterotrophic microbes, usually the carbon source, determines the maximum cell density that can be obtained in a culture. However, experimental data demonstrated that growth of microbial cultures can be limited simultaneously by two or more nutrients. These authors reported that during growth of bacteria and yeasts at a constant dilution rate in the chemostat, three distinct growth regimes were recognised as a function of the C:N ratio in the inflowing medium: (1) a clearly carbon-limited regime with the nitrogen source in excess, (2) a transition ("double-nutrient-limited") growth regime where both the carbon and the nitrogen source were below the detection limit, and (3) a clearly nitrogen-limited growth regime with the carbon source in excess. Subsequent calculations suggested that the extension and position of this double-nutrient-limited zone should be strongly dependent on the imposed growth rate: Whereas it is very narrow at high growth rates it should become very broad during slow growth. This pattern as a function of growth rate has now been confirmed for a number of different organisms. In industrial processes, microbial growth is always in some way controlled by the limited availability of nutrients, and limitation of specific nutrients is frequently used to force microbial cultures into a productive physiological state. This article will discuss what the consequences of multiple-nutrient-limited growth are for industrial processes and how the concept might be applied. Specific examples will be given that demonstrate the advantages and the potential of multiple nutrient-limited growth conditions for industrial production processes.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons

How to join PubMed Commons

    Supplemental Content

    Full text links

    Icon for Elsevier Science
    Loading ...
    Write to the Help Desk