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How close to the theoretical diffusion limit do bacterial uptake systems function?


Using a 10cm flow-through cuvette in a high precision spectrophotometer linked to a mini-computer, the growth rate dependence of Escherichia coli on glucose concentration has been studied. The specific growth rate vs bacterial mass of single cultures consuming small amounts of glucose was followed. The data were analyzed with the computer programs described previously. For neither batch nor chemostat-cultured organisms did growth follow the monod growth law. Rather, the growth rate vs residual glucose concentration has an almost abrupt change in slope, indicative of a passive diffusion barrier prior to an uptake system possessing hyperbolic dependency. Calculations showed that the diffusion through the outer membrane via the porin channels could quantitatively account for the deviations from hyperbolic dependency. Long term chemostat culture alters the bacteria so that the maximum specific growth rate is reduced, but the initial dependence on glucose concentration is increased approaching more closely the theoretical limit. Therefore there was both a change in the outer membrane channels and the uptake activity of the cytoplasmic membrane.

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Koch, A.L., Houston Wang, C. How close to the theoretical diffusion limit do bacterial uptake systems function?. Arch. Microbiol. 131, 36–42 (1982).

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Key words

  • Escherichia coli
  • Growth rate
  • Low nutrient concentration
  • Precision measurement
  • Diffusion-limited growth
  • Theoretical maximum growth