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, 1412 (3), 191-211

Does Microbial Life Always Feed on Negative Entropy? Thermodynamic Analysis of Microbial Growth


Does Microbial Life Always Feed on Negative Entropy? Thermodynamic Analysis of Microbial Growth

U von Stockar et al. Biochim Biophys Acta.


Schrödinger stated in his landmark book, What is Life?, that life feeds on negative entropy. In this contribution, the validity of this statement is discussed through a careful thermodynamic analysis of microbial growth processes. In principle, both feeding on negative entropy, i.e. yielding products of higher entropy than the substrates, and generating heat can be used by microorganisms to rid themselves of internal entropy production resulting from maintenance and growth processes. Literature data are reviewed in order to compare these two mechanisms. It is shown that entropy-neutral, entropy-driven, and entropy-retarded growth exist. The analysis of some particularly interesting microorganisms shows that enthalpy-retarded microbial growth may also exist, which would signify a net uptake of heat during growth. However, the existence of endothermic life has never been demonstrated in a calorimeter. The internal entropy production in live cells also reflects itself in the Gibbs energy dissipation accompanying growth, which is related quantitatively to the biomass yield. An empirical correlation of the Gibbs energy dissipation in terms of the physico-chemical nature of the growth substrate has been proposed in the literature and can be used to predict the biomass yield approximately. The ratio of enthalpy change and Gibbs energy change can also be predicted since it is shown to be approximately equal to the same ratio of the relevant catabolic process alone.

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