New Biotechnology 67 , 12-22 ( 2022)
Lactic acid (LA) has several applications in the food, cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries, as well as in the production of biodegradable plastic polymers, namely polylactides. Industrial production of LA is essentially based on microbial fermentation. Recent reports have shown the potential of the cellulolytic bacterium Clostridium thermocellum for direct LA production from inexpensive lignocellulosic biomass. However, C. thermocellum is highly sensitive to acids and does not grow at pH < 6.0. Improvement of LA tolerance of this microorganism is pivotal for its application in cost-efficient production of LA. In the present study, the LA tolerance of C. thermocellum strains LL345 (wild-type fermentation profile) and LL1111 (high LA yield) was increased by adaptive laboratory evolution. At large inoculum size (10 %), the maximum tolerated LA concentration of strain LL1111 was more than doubled, from 15 g/L to 35 g/L, while subcultures evolved from LL345 showed 50-85 % faster growth in medium containing 45 g/L LA. Gene mutations (pyruvate phosphate dikinase, histidine protein kinase/phosphorylase) possibly affecting carbohydrate and/or phosphate metabolism have been detected in most LA-adapted populations. Although improvement of LA tolerance may sometimes also enable higher LA production in microorganisms, C. thermocellum LA-adapted cultures showed a yield of LA, and generally of other organic acids, similar to or lower than parental strains. Based on its improved LA tolerance and LA titer similar to its parent strain (LL1111), mixed adapted culture LL1630 showed the highest performing phenotype and could serve as a framework for improving LA production by further metabolic engineering.