Metabolite secretion in microorganisms: the theory of metabolic overflow put to the test

Farhana R. Pinu*, Ninna Granucci, James Daniell, Ting-Li Han, Sonia Carneiro, Isabel Rocha, Jens Nielsen, Silas G. Villas-Boas

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReviewpeer-review


Microbial cells secrete many metabolites during growth, including important intermediates of the central carbon metabolism. This has not been taken into account by researchers when modeling microbial metabolism for metabolic engineering and systems biology studies.
Materials and Methods
The uptake of metabolites by microorganisms is well studied, but our knowledge of how and why they secrete different intracellular compounds is poor. The secretion of metabolites by microbial cells has traditionally been regarded as a consequence of intracellular metabolic overflow.
Here, we provide evidence based on time-series metabolomics data that microbial cells eliminate some metabolites in response to environmental cues, independent of metabolic overflow. Moreover, we review the different mechanisms of metabolite secretion and explore how this knowledge can benefit metabolic modeling and engineering.
Original languageEnglish
Article number43
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Microbial metabolism
  • Microorganisms
  • Active efflux
  • Secretion
  • Metabolic engineering
  • Metabolic modeling
  • Systems biology


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