Adaptation and tolerance of bacteria against acetic acid
Acetic acid is a weak organic acid exerting a toxic effect to most microorganisms at concentrations as low as 0.5 wt%. This toxic effect results mostly from acetic acid dissociation inside microbial cells, causing a decrease of intracellular pH and metabolic disturbance by the anion, among other deleterious effects. These microbial inhibition mechanisms enable acetic acid to be used as a preservative, although its usefulness is limited by the emergence of highly tolerant spoilage strains. Several biotechnological processes are also inhibited by the accumulation of acetic acid in the growth medium including production of bioethanol from lignocellulosics, wine making, and microbe-based production of acetic acid itself. To design better preservation strategies based on acetic acid and to improve the robustness of industrial biotechnological processes limited by this acid’s toxicity, it is essential to deepen the understanding of the underlying toxicity mechanisms. In this sense, adaptive responses that improve tolerance to acetic acid have been well studied in Escherichia coli and Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Strains highly tolerant to acetic acid, either isolated from natural environments or specifically engineered for this effect, represent a unique reservoir of information that could increase our understanding of acetic acid tolerance and contribute to the design of additional tolerance mechanisms. In this article, the mechanisms underlying the acetic acid tolerance exhibited by several bacterial strains are reviewed, with emphasis on the knowledge gathered in acetic acid bacteria and E. coli. A comparison of how these bacterial adaptive responses to acetic acid stress fit to those described in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae is also performed. A systematic comparison of the similarities and dissimilarities of the ways by which different microbial systems surpass the deleterious effects of acetic acid toxicity has not been performed so far, although such exchange of knowledge can open the door to the design of novel approaches aiming the development of acetic acid-tolerant strains with increased industrial robustness in a synthetic biology perspective.