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Yeast. 2000 Sep 30;16(13):1173-83.

Sorbic acid resistance: the inoculum effect.

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1
Microbiology Section, Unilever Research, Colworth House, Sharnbrook, Bedford MK44 1LQ, UK.

Abstract

Zygosaccharomyces is a genus associated with the more extreme spoilage yeasts. Zygosaccharomyces spoilage yeasts are osmotolerant, fructophiles (preferring fructose), highly-fermentative and extremely preservative-resistant. Zygosaccharomyces bailii can grow in the presence of commonly-used food preservatives, benzoic, acetic or sorbic acids, at concentrations far higher than are legally permitted or organolepically acceptable in foods. An inoculum effect has been described for many micro-organisms and antimicrobial agents. The minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) increases with the size of the inoculum; large inocula at high cell density therefore require considerably higher concentrations of inhibitors to prevent growth than do dilute cell suspensions. A substantial inoculum effect was found using sorbic acid against the spoilage yeast Zygosaccharomyces bailii NCYC 1766. The inoculum effect was not caused by yeasts metabolizing or adsorbing sorbic acid, thereby lowering the effective concentration; was not due to absence of cell-cell signals in dilute cell suspensions; and was not an artefact, generated by insufficient time for small inocula to grow. The inoculum effect appeared to be caused by diversity in the populations of yeast cells, with higher probability of sorbic acid-resistant cells being present in large inocula. It was found that individual cells of Zygosaccharomyces bailii populations, grown as single cells in microtitre plate wells, were very diverse, varying enormously in resistance to sorbic acid. 26S ribosomal DNA sequencing did not detect differences between the small fraction of resistant 'super cells' and the average population. Re-inoculation of the 'super cells' after overnight growth on YEPD showed a normal distribution of resistance to sorbic acid, similar to that of the original population. The resistance phenotype was therefore not heritable and not caused by a genetically distinct subpopulation. It was concluded that resistance of the spoilage yeast Zygosaccharomyces bailii to sorbic acid was due to the presence of small numbers of phenotypically resistant cells in the population.

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