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Biotechnol Biofuels. 2009 Oct 15;2:26. doi: 10.1186/1754-6834-2-26.

Cellulosic hydrolysate toxicity and tolerance mechanisms in Escherichia coli.

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Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, UCB424/ECCH120, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309, USA.
Contributed equally


The sustainable production of biofuels will require the efficient utilization of lignocellulosic biomass. A key barrier involves the creation of growth-inhibitory compounds by chemical pretreatment steps, which ultimately reduce the efficiency of fermentative microbial biocatalysts. The primary toxins include organic acids, furan derivatives, and phenolic compounds. Weak acids enter the cell and dissociate, resulting in a drop in intracellular pH as well as various anion-specific effects on metabolism. Furan derivatives, dehydration products of hexose and pentose sugars, have been shown to hinder fermentative enzyme function. Phenolic compounds, formed from lignin, can disrupt membranes and are hypothesized to interfere with the function of intracellular hydrophobic targets. This review covers mechanisms of toxicity and tolerance for these compounds with a specific focus on the important industrial organism Escherichia coli. Recent efforts to engineer E. coli for improved tolerance to these toxins are also discussed.

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