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Chem Rec. 2001;1(4):333-46.

Secondary metabolism in simulated microgravity.

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Biology Department, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, USA.
MIT, Cambridge


We have studied microbial secondary metabolism in a simulated microgravity (SMG) environment provided by NASA rotating-wall bioreactors (RWBs). These reactors were designed to simulate some aspects of actual microgravity that occur in space. Growth and product formation were observed in SMG in all cases studied, i.e., Bacillus brevis produced gramicidin S (GS), Streptomyces clavuligerus made beta-lactam antibiotics, Streptomyces hygroscopicus produced rapamycin, and Escherichia coli produced microcin B17 (MccB17). Of these processes, only GS production was unaffected by SMG; production of the other three products was inhibited. This was determined by comparison with performance in an RWB positioned in a different mode to provide a normal gravity (NG) environment. Carbon source repression by glycerol of the GS process, as observed in shaken flasks, was not observed in the RWBs, whether operated in the SMG or NG mode. The same phenomenon occurred in the case of MccB17 production, with respect to glucose repression. Thus, the negative effects of carbon source on GS and beta-lactam formation are presumably dependent on shear, turbulence, and/or vessel geometry, but not on gravity. Stimulatory effects of phosphate and the precursor L-lysine on beta-lactam antibiotic production, as observed in flasks, also occurred in SMG. An almost complete shift in the localization of produced MccB17 from cells to extracellular medium was observed when E. coli was grown in the RWB under SMG or NG. If a plastic bead was placed in the RWB, accumulation became cellular, as it is in shaken flasks, indicating that sheer stress favors a cellular location. In the case of rapamycin, the same type of shift was observed, but it was less dramatic, i.e., growth in the RWB under SMG shifted the distribution of produced rapamycin from 2/3 cellular:1/3 extracellular to 1/3 cellular:2/3 extracellular. Stress has been shown to induce or promote secondary metabolism in a number of other microbial systems. RWBs provide a low stress SMG environment, which, however, supports only poor production of MccB17, as compared to production in shaken flasks. We wondered whether the poor production in RWBs under SMG is due to the low level of stress, and whether increasing stress in the RWBs would raise the amount of MccB17 formed. We found that increasing shear stress by adding a single Teflon bead to the RWB improved MccB17 production. Although shear stress seems to have a marked positive effect on MccB17 production in SMG, addition of various concentrations of ethanol to RWBs (or to shaken flasks) failed to increase MccB17 production. Ethanol stress merely decreased production and, at higher concentrations, inhibited growth. Interestingly, cells growing in the RWB were much more resistant to the growth- and production-inhibitory effects of ethanol than cells growing in shaken flasks. With respect to S. hygroscopicus, addition of Teflon beads to the RWB reversed the inhibition of growth, but rapamycin production was still markedly inhibited, and the distribution did not revert back to a preferential cellular site.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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