Background The use of lignocellulosic-based fermentation media will be a necessary part of the transition to a circular bio-economy. These media contain many inhibitors to microbial growth, including acetic acid. Under industrially relevant conditions, acetic acid enters the cell predominantly through passive diffusion across the plasma membrane. The lipid composition of the membrane determines the rate of uptake of acetic acid, and thicker, more rigid membranes impede passive diffusion.
Results We hypothesized that the elongation of glycerophospholipid fatty acids would lead to thicker and more rigid membranes, reducing the influx of acetic acid. Molecular dynamics simulations were used to predict the changes in membrane properties. Overexpression of Arabidopsis thaliana genes FAE1 and GPAT5 increased the average fatty acid chain length. However, this did not lead to a reduction in the net uptake rate of acetic acid.
Conclusions Despite successful strain engineering, the net uptake rate of acetic acid did not decrease. We suggest that changes in the relative abundance of certain membrane lipid headgroups could mitigate the effect of longer fatty acid chains, resulting in a higher net uptake rate of acetic acid.