, Volume 34, Issue 3, pp 355-381

Living with heterogeneities in bioreactors

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The presence of spatial gradients in fundamental culture parameters, such as dissolved gases, pH, concentration of substrates, and shear rate, among others, is an important problem that frequently occurs in large-scale bioreactors. This problem is caused by a deficient mixing that results from limitations inherent to traditional scale-up methods and practical constraints during large-scale bioreactor design and operation. When cultured in a heterogeneous environment, cells are continuously exposed to fluctuating conditions as they travel through the various zones of a bioreactor. Such fluctuations can affect cell metabolism, yields, and quality of the products of interest. In this review, the theoretical analyses that predict the existence of environmental gradients in bioreactors and their experimental confirmation are reviewed. The origins of gradients in common culture parameters and their effects on various organisms of biotechnological importance are discussed. In particular, studies based on the scale-down methodology, a convenient tool for assessing the effect of environmental heterogene ities, are surveyed.