Acetic acid, growth rate, and mass transfer govern shifts in CO metabolism of Clostridium autoethanogenum

Marina P. Elisiário, Wouter Van Hecke, Heleen De Wever, Henk Noorman, Adrie J.J. Straathof*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Abstract: Syngas fermentation is a leading microbial process for the conversion of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen to valuable biochemicals. Clostridium autoethanogenum stands as a model organism for this process, showcasing its ability to convert syngas into ethanol industrially with simultaneous fixation of carbon and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. A deep understanding on the metabolism of this microorganism and the influence of operational conditions on fermentation performance is key to advance the technology and enhancement of production yields. In this work, we studied the individual impact of acetic acid concentration, growth rate, and mass transfer rate on metabolic shifts, product titres, and rates in CO fermentation by C. autoethanogenum. Through continuous fermentations performed at a low mass transfer rate, we measured the production of formate in addition to acetate and ethanol. We hypothesise that low mass transfer results in low CO concentrations, leading to reduced activity of the Wood–Ljungdahl pathway and a bottleneck in formate conversion, thereby resulting in the accumulation of formate. The supplementation of the medium with exogenous acetate revealed that undissociated acetic acid concentration increases and governs ethanol yield and production rates, assumedly to counteract the inhibition by undissociated acetic acid. Since acetic acid concentration is determined by growth rate (via dilution rate), mass transfer rate, and working pH, these variables jointly determine ethanol production rates. These findings have significant implications for process optimisation as targeting an optimal undissociated acetic acid concentration can shift metabolism towards ethanol production. Key points: • Very low CO mass transfer rate leads to leaking of intermediate metabolite formate. • Undissociated acetic acid concentration governs ethanol yield on CO and productivity. • Impact of growth rate, mass transfer rate, and pH were considered jointly. Graphical abstract: [Figure not available: see fulltext.]

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5329-5340
JournalApplied Microbiology and Biotechnology
Issue number17
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Acetic acid concentration
  • Clostridium autoethanogenum
  • CO metabolism
  • Growth rate, Mass transfer

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