Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology

, Volume 100, Issue 24, pp 10237–10249 | Cite as

Ionic liquid-tolerant microorganisms and microbial communities for lignocellulose conversion to bioproducts

  • Chaowei Yu
  • Blake A. Simmons
  • Steven W. Singer
  • Michael P. Thelen
  • Jean S. VanderGheynstEmail author


Chemical and physical pretreatment of biomass is a critical step in the conversion of lignocellulose to biofuels and bioproducts. Ionic liquid (IL) pretreatment has attracted significant attention due to the unique ability of certain ILs to solubilize some or all components of the plant cell wall. However, these ILs inhibit not only the enzyme activities but also the growth and productivity of microorganisms used in downstream hydrolysis and fermentation processes. While pretreated biomass can be washed to remove residual IL and reduce inhibition, extensive washing is costly and not feasible in large-scale processes. IL-tolerant microorganisms and microbial communities have been discovered from environmental samples and studies begun to elucidate mechanisms of IL tolerance. The discovery of IL tolerance in environmental microbial communities and individual microbes has lead to the proposal of molecular mechanisms of resistance. In this article, we review recent progress on discovering IL-tolerant microorganisms, identifying metabolic pathways and mechanisms of tolerance, and engineering microorganisms for IL tolerance. Research in these areas will yield new approaches to overcome inhibition in lignocellulosic biomass bioconversion processes and increase opportunities for the use of ILs in biomass pretreatment.


Ionic liquid tolerance Microbial community enrichment Ionic liquid pretreatment Engineering ionic liquid tolerance 


Compliance with ethical standards


This work was supported by National Institute of Food and Agriculture project CA-D-BAE-2228-RR, the UC Lab Fees Research Program under project no. 237496, and completed as part of the Joint BioEnergy Institute, supported by the US Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research, through contract DE-AC02-05CH11231 between Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the US Department of Energy.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Chaowei Yu
    • 1
  • Blake A. Simmons
    • 2
    • 3
  • Steven W. Singer
    • 2
    • 3
  • Michael P. Thelen
    • 2
    • 4
  • Jean S. VanderGheynst
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Biological and Agricultural EngineeringUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA
  2. 2.Joint BioEnergy InstituteEmeryvilleUSA
  3. 3.Biological Systems and Engineering DivisionLawrence Berkeley National LaboratoryBerkeleyUSA
  4. 4.Biosciences DivisionLawrence Livermore National LaboratoryLivermoreUSA

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