Reference Work Entry

The Prokaryotes

pp 3-75

Organic Acid and Solvent Production: Acetic, Lactic, Gluconic, Succinic, and Polyhydroxyalkanoic Acids

  • Palmer Rogers∗
  • , Jiann-Shin ChenAffiliated withDepartment of Biochemistry, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech)
  • , Mary Jo ZidwickAffiliated withBiotechnology Development Center, Cargill, Incorporated


The objective of this chapter is to present the ways bacteria are effectively harnessed as biocatalysts to perform the synthesis of bulk organic acids and solvents. Prior to the development of the petroleum-based chemical industry, microbial fermentations of agricultural biomass were a major source of a number of useful bulk organic chemicals. Commercial chemical production often emerged from a much earlier food-processing technology where grains, corns, milks, and fruits were fermented to wines, beers, cheeses, and vinegars. Beginning at the end of the nineteenth century and continuing to the present, specific bacterial strains were selected from nature to produce commercially needed bulk chemicals such as lactic acid, acetic acid, acetone and butanol, and more recently gluconic acid and polyhydroxyalkanoates. Lactic acid currently is produced at very large volumes for a multitude of food and industrial uses. Using the tools of metabolic engineering, bacterial strains are being altered for production of propanediols, butanediol, and succinic acid at higher yields and productivity than are possible using natural strains.