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Characterisation of the Escherichia coli membrane structure and function during fedbatch cultivation

Atefeh Shokri and Gen Larsson*

Author Affiliations

The Swedish Centre for Bioprocess Technology, Albanova University Centre, KTH SE-106 91 Stockholm, SWEDEN

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Microbial Cell Factories 2004, 3:9  doi:10.1186/1475-2859-3-9

Published: 28 July 2004



Important parameters during recombinant protein production in Escherichia coli, such as productivity and protein activity, are affected by the growth rate. This includes the translocation of protein over the membrane to gain better folding capacity or reduced proteolysis. To vary the growth rate two techniques are available: fedbatch and continuous cultivation, both controlled by the ingoing feed rate.


During fedbatch cultivation, E. coli contains phosphatidylethanolamine, phosphatidylglycerol, cardiolipin and saturated fatty acids in amounts which are stable with growth rate. However, the levels of cardiolipin are very high compared to continuous cultivation. The reason for fedbatch triggering of this metabolism is not known but hypothesised to result from an additional need for carbon and energy. The reason could be the dynamic and sometimes rapid changes in growth rate to which the fedbatch cell has at all times to adjust. The membrane flexibility, essential for translocation of various components, is however to some degree sustained by production of increased amounts of unsaturated fatty acids in phosphatidylglycerol. The result is a functionally stiff membrane which generally promotes low cell lysis and is constant with respect to protein leakage to the medium. At comparatively high growth rates, when the further stabilising effect of cyclic fatty acids is gone, the high level of unsaturated fatty acids results in a pronounced effect upon sonication. This is very much in contrast to the membrane function in continuous cultivation which shows very specific characteristics as a function of growth rate.


The stiff and unchanging fedbatch membrane should promote a stable behaviour during downstream processing and is less dependent on the time of harvest. However, optimisation of protein leakage can only be achieved in the continuously cultivated cell where leakage is twice as high compared to the constant leakage level in fedbatch. If leakage is undesired, continuous cultivation is also preferred since it can be designed to lead to the lowest values detected. Induction at low growth rate (<0.2 h-1) should be avoided with respect to productivity, in any system, since the specific and total protein production shows their lowest values at this point.