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Extremolytes: natural compounds from extremophiles for versatile applications


Extremophilic microorganisms have adopted a variety of ingenious strategies for survival under high or low temperature, extreme pressure, and drastic salt concentrations. A novel application area for extremophiles is the use of “extremolytes,” organic osmolytes from extremophilic microorganisms, to protect biological macromolecules and cells from damage by external stresses. In extremophiles, these low molecular weight compounds are accumulated in response to increased extracellular salt concentrations, but also as a response to other environmental changes, e.g., increased temperature. Extremolytes minimize the denaturation of biopolymers that usually occurs under conditions of water stress and are compatible with the intracellular machinery at high (>1 M) concentrations. The ectoines, as the first extremolytes that are produced in a large scale, have already found application as cell protectants in skin care and as protein-free stabilizers of proteins and cells in life sciences. In addition to ectoines, a range of extremolytes with heterogenous chemical structures like the polyol phosphates di-myoinositol-1,1′-phosphate, cyclic 2,3-diphosphoglycerate, and α-diglycerol phosphate and the mannose derivatives mannosylglycerate (firoin) and mannosylglyceramide (firoin-A) were characterized and were shown to have protective properties toward proteins and cells. A range of new applications, all based on the adaptation to stress conditions conferred by extremolytes, is in development.

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Correspondence to Georg Lentzen.

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Lentzen, G., Schwarz, T. Extremolytes: natural compounds from extremophiles for versatile applications. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 72, 623–634 (2006).

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  • Ectoine
  • Compatible solutes
  • Osmolytes
  • Extremophiles
  • Extremolytes
  • Cytoprotection