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FEMS Microbiol Ecol. 1999 Oct 1;30(2):101-111.

Effect of low temperature on microbial growth: lowered affinity for substrates limits growth at low temperature.

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University of Essex, Department of Biological Sciences, Wivenhoe Park, Colchester, UK


The effect of environmental temperature on the affinity of microorganisms for substrates is discussed in relation to measurements of affinity by either K(s) values or specific affinity (a(A)). It can be shown for psychrophiles, mesophiles and thermophiles that when a(A) is used as the measure of affinity, affinity decreases consistently as temperature drops below the optimum temperature for growth. This effect may be because of stiffening of the lipids of the membrane below the temperature optimum, leading to decreased efficiency of transport proteins embedded in the membrane. The lower temperature limit for growth is, therefore, that temperature at which an organism is no longer able to supply the maintenance requirement of the growth rate-limiting nutrient because of loss of affinity for that substrate. This linking of temperature and affinity for substrates taken up by active transport (a temperature-modulated substrate affinity model) includes uptake of both organic and inorganic substrates. This effect of decreased substrate affinity at low temperature may have profound implications on the availability of substrates in the natural environment as environmental temperatures change. At temperatures below their optimum for growth microorganisms will become increasingly unable to sequester substrates from their environment because of lowered affinity, exacerbating the anyway near-starvation conditions in many natural environments.

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