Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology

, Volume 99, Issue 15, pp 6215–6229 | Cite as

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.


Acetic acid tolerance Acetic acid bacteria Acetic acid/acetate transporters Intracellular pH Food preservatives Vinegar Biomass fermentation 



LJ was supported by the NSF Engineering Research Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC), NSF award number EEC-0813570 and Karen and Denny Vaughn. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The research of JT has been funded by the Slovenian Research Agency through the programs IP-0552 and P2-0006. NPM acknowledges past and present members of the Biological Sciences Research Group from Instituto Superior Técnico, who have worked in the study of yeast adaptive responses to stress imposed by weak organic acids and have made significant contributions to most of the studies mentioned in this review. In particular, NPM would like to highlight the highly relevant contribution of Professor Isabel Sá-Correia, the head of BSRG, who pioneered much of the work herein reviewed in the field of organic acid toxicity in yeasts.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biology, Faculty of Natural Sciences and MathematicsUniversity of MariborMariborSlovenia
  2. 2.Faculty of Chemistry and Chemical EngineeringUniversity of MariborMariborSlovenia
  3. 3.Department of BioengineeringInstituto Superior Técnico, Institute of Bioengineering and Biosciences, Universidade de LisboaLisbonPortugal
  4. 4.Department of Chemical and Biological EngineeringIowa State UniversityAmesUSA
  5. 5.Interdepartmental Microbiology ProgramIowa State UniversityAmesUSA

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