Inhibition of Growth of Zymomonas mobilis by Model Compounds Found in Lignocellulosic Hydrolysates

Mary Ann Franden, Heidi M. Pilath, Ali Mohagheghi, Philip T. Pienkos, Min Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

133 Scopus Citations


Background: During the pretreatment of biomass feedstocks and subsequent conditioning prior to saccharification, many toxic compounds are produced or introduced which inhibit microbial growth and in many cases, production of ethanol. An understanding of the toxic effects of compounds found in hydrolysate is critical to improving sugar utilization and ethanol yields in the fermentation process. In this study, we established a useful tool for surveying hydrolysate toxicity by measuring growth rates in the presence of toxic compounds, and examined the effects of selected model inhibitors of aldehydes, organic and inorganic acids (along with various cations), and alcohols on growth of Zymomonas mobilis 8b (a ZM4 derivative) using glucose or xylose as the carbon source. Results: Toxicity strongly correlated to hydrophobicity in Z. mobilis, which has been observed in Escherichia coli and Saccharomyces cerevisiae for aldehydes and with some exceptions, organic acids. We observed Z. mobilis 8b to be more tolerant to organic acids than previously reported, although the carbon source and growth conditions play a role in tolerance. Growth in xylose was profoundly inhibited by monocarboxylic organic acids compared to growth in glucose, whereas dicarboxylic acids demonstrated little or no effects on growth rate in either substrate. Furthermore, cations can be ranked in order of their toxicity, Ca++ Na+ > NH4 + > K+. HMF (5-hydroxymethylfurfural), furfural and acetate, which were observed to contribute to inhibition of Z. mobilis growth in dilute acid pretreated corn stover hydrolysate, do not interact in a synergistic manner in combination. We provide further evidence that Z. mobilis 8b is capable of converting the aldehydes furfural, vanillin, 4-hydroxybenzaldehyde and to some extent syringaldehyde to their alcohol forms (furfuryl, vanillyl, 4-hydroxybenzyl and syringyl alcohol) during fermentation. Conclusions: Several key findings in this report provide a mechanism for predicting toxic contributions of inhibitory components of hydrolysate and provide guidance for potential process development, along with potential future strain improvement and tolerance strategies.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number99
Number of pages15
JournalBiotechnology for Biofuels
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2013

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5100-58110


  • Bioscreen C
  • Cell growth assay
  • Ethanol
  • High-throughput screening
  • Hydrolysate
  • Inhibitor
  • Lignocellulosic biomass
  • Zymomonas mobilis


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