The effect of acetate on population heterogeneity in different cellular characteristics of Escherichia coli in aerobic batch cultures

Anna-Lena Heins*, Luisa Lundin, Inês Nunes, Krist V. Gernaey, Søren J. Sørensen, Anna Eliasson Lantz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Acetate as the major by-product in industrial scale bioprocesses with E. coli is found to decrease process efficiency as well as to be toxic to cells, which has several effects like a significant induction of cellular stress responses. However, the underlying phenomena are poorly explored. Therefore we studied time-resolved population heterogeneity of the E. coli growth reporter strain MG1655/pGS20PrrnBGFPAAV expressing destabilized green fluorescent protein during batch growth on acetate and glucose as sole carbon sources. Additionally, we applied five fluorescent stains targeting different cellular properties (viability as well as metabolic and respiratory activity). Quantitative analysis of flow cytometry data verified that bacterial populations in the bioreactor are more heterogeneous in growth as well as stronger metabolically challenged during growth on acetate as sole carbon source, compared to growth on glucose or acetate after diauxic shift. Interestingly, with acetate as sole carbon source significant subpopulations were found with some cells that seem to be more robust than the rest of the population. In conclusion, following batch cultures population heterogeneity was evident in all measured parameters. Our approach enabled a deeper study of heterogeneity during growth on the favoured substrate glucose as well as on the toxic by-product acetate. Using a combination of activity fluorescent dyes proved to be an accurate and fast alternative as well as a supplement to the use of a reporter strain. However the choice of combination of stains should be well considered depending on which population traits to aim for.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2796
JournalBiotechnology Progress
Issue number3
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Flow cytometry
  • Growth on acetate
  • Metabolic activity
  • Population heterogeneity
  • Reporter strain
  • Viability


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