Characterization of the effects of n-butanol on the cell envelope of E. coli

Eugene Fletcher, Teuta Pilizota, Philip R. Davies, Alexander McVey, Chris E. French

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Biofuel alcohols have severe consequences on the microbial hosts used in their biosynthesis, which limits the productivity of the bioconversion. The cell envelope is one of the most strongly affected structures, in particular, as the external concentration of biofuels rises during biosynthesis. Damage to the cell envelope can have severe consequences, such as impairment of transport into and out of the cell; however, the nature of butanol-induced envelope damage has not been well characterized. In the present study, the effects of n-butanol on the cell envelope of Escherichia coli were investigated. Using enzyme and fluorescence-based assays, we observed that 1 % v/v n-butanol resulted in the release of lipopolysaccharides from the outer membrane of E. coli and caused ‘leakiness’ in both outer and inner membranes. Higher concentrations of n-butanol, within the range of 2–10 % (v/v), resulted in inner membrane protrusion through the peptidoglycan observed by characteristic blebs. The findings suggest that strategies for rational engineering of butanol-tolerant bacterial strains should take into account all components of the cell envelope.
Original languageEnglish
JournalApplied Microbiology and Biotechnology
Issue number22
Pages (from-to)9653-9659
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Bacteria
  • Biofuel
  • Cell membrane
  • N-butanol


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