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Open Access Research article

Formation and characterization of non-growth states in Clostridium thermocellum: spores and L-forms

Elizabeth B Mearls12, Javier A Izquierdo123 and Lee R Lynd12*

Author Affiliations

1 Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, 03755, USA

2 BioEnergy Science Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN, 37831, USA

3 Present Address: Center for Agricultural and Environmental Biotechnology, RTI, Research Triangle Park, 27709, USA

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BMC Microbiology 2012, 12:180  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-12-180

Published: 16 August 2012

Abstract

Background

Clostridium thermocellum is an anaerobic thermophilic bacterium that exhibits high levels of cellulose solublization and produces ethanol as an end product of its metabolism. Using cellulosic biomass as a feedstock for fuel production is an attractive prospect, however, growth arrest can negatively impact ethanol production by fermentative microorganisms such as C. thermocellum. Understanding conditions that lead to non-growth states in C. thermocellum can positively influence process design and culturing conditions in order to optimize ethanol production in an industrial setting.

Results

We report here that Clostridium thermocellum ATCC 27405 enters non-growth states in response to specific growth conditions. Non-growth states include the formation of spores and a L-form-like state in which the cells cease to grow or produce the normal end products of metabolism. Unlike other sporulating organisms, we did not observe sporulation of C. thermocellum in low carbon or nitrogen environments. However, sporulation did occur in response to transfers between soluble and insoluble substrates, resulting in approximately 7% mature spores. Exposure to oxygen caused a similar sporulation response. Starvation conditions during continuous culture did not result in spore formation, but caused the majority of cells to transition to a L-form state. Both spores and L-forms were determined to be viable. Spores exhibited enhanced survival in response to high temperature and prolonged storage compared to L-forms and vegetative cells. However, L-forms exhibited faster recovery compared to both spores and stationary phase cells when cultured in rich media.

Conclusions

Both spores and L-forms cease to produce ethanol, but provide other advantages for C. thermocellum including enhanced survival for spores and faster recovery for L-forms. Understanding the conditions that give rise to these two different non-growth states, and the implications that each has for enabling or enhancing C. thermocellum survival may promote the efficient cultivation of this organism and aid in its development as an industrial microorganism.