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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1987;506:24-50.

Transport of substrates and metabolites and their effect on cell metabolism (in butyric-acid and methylotrophic fermentations).

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Department of Chemical Engineering, Rice University, Houston, Texas 77251-1892.


The two components, delta pH and delta psi, of the membrane protonmotive force (delta p) effect and are affected by the transport of many substrates and metabolites. Because the integrity (or restoration) of the delta p requires the expenditure of metabolic energy, such transport processes affect the overall cell bioenergetics. However, the transport or high concentrations of certain substrates and metabolites can have more serious effects on cell metabolism because they partially or completely abolish either or both the delta pH and delta psi. If the cells cannot eventually restore the collapsed component(s) of the delta p, complete growth inhibition and cell death become inevitable. In the butanol/acetone fermentation of Clostridium acetobutylicum, the transport and the presence of key metabolites (acetic and butyric acids, and butanol) have serious and some necessary effects on the delta p. Acetic and butyric acids act as uncouplers of the delta pH, thereby reducing the internal pH. Using other acid uncouplers (such as acetoacetate, which is metabolized by the cells, or FCCP, which is not metabolized by the cells), we found that a lower pHo combined with the metabolic-energy drain of the uncoupling effect and high internal acid concentrations are implicated in the mechanism(s) of solventogenesis. Thus, the production or presence (or both) of the two acids (acetic and butyric) is beneficial to the initiation of solvent production. The transport mechanisms of CH3OH, CH2O, and HCOOH in obligate CH3OH utilizers (methylotrophs) were also discussed in detail. We showed that CH3OH is actively transported by the cells at the expense of metabolic energy and that its transport significantly affects the dynamics of continuous bioreactors. The accumulation of CH2O was found to be driven by the membrane delta p. Finally, formate was accumulated by the delta pH according to the general transport mechanism of short-chain fatty acids. The inhibition of growth by formate was explained by its uncoupling effect on the cells. Growth inhibition by CH3OH appeared to be related to the severe reduction of the membrane delta pH and cell pHi by relatively low CH3OH concentrations.

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