Metabolism of citric acid production by Aspergillus niger: model definition, steady-state analysis and constrained optimization of citric acid production rate

Biotechnol Bioeng. 2000 Oct 5;70(1):82-108. doi: 10.1002/1097-0290(20001005)70:1<82::aid-bit10>;2-v.


In an attempt to provide a rational basis for the optimization of citric acid production by A. niger, we developed a mathematical model of the metabolism of this filamentous fungus when in conditions of citric acid accumulation. The present model is based in a previous one, but extended with the inclusion of new metabolic processes and updated with currently available kinetic data. Among the different alternatives to represent the system behavior we have chosen the S-system representation within power-law formalism. This type of representation allows us to verify not only the ability of the model to exhibit a stable steady state of the integrated system but also the robustness and quality of the representation. The model analysis is shown to be self-consistent, with a stable steady state, and in good agreement with experimental evidence. Moreover, the model representation is sufficiently robust, as indicated by sensitivity and steady-state and dynamic analyses. From the steady-state results we concluded that the range of accuracy of the S-system representation is wide enough to model realistic deviations from the nominal steady state. The dynamic analysis indicated a reasonable response time, which provided further indication that the model is adequate. The extensive assessment of the reliability and quality of the model put us in a position to address questions of optimization of the system with respect to increased citrate production. We carried out the constrained optimization of A. niger metabolism with the goal of predicting an enzyme activity profile yielding the maximum rate of citrate production, while, at the same time, keeping all enzyme activities within predetermined, physiologically acceptable ranges. The optimization is based on a method described and tested elsewhere that utilizes the fact that the S-system representation of a metabolic system becomes linear at steady state, which allows application of linear programming techniques. Our results show that: (i) while the present profile of enzyme activities in A. niger at idiophase steady state yields high rates of citric acid production, it still leaves room for changes and suggests possible optimization of the activity profile to over five times the basal rate synthesis; (ii) when the total enzyme concentration is allowed to double its basal value, the citric acid production rate can be increased by more than 12-fold, and even larger values can be attained if the total enzyme concentration is allowed to increase even more (up to 50-fold when the total enzyme concentration may rise up to 10-fold the basal value); and (iii) the systematic search of the best combination of subsets of enzymes shows that, under all conditions assayed, a minimum of 13 enzymes need be modified if significant increases in citric acid are to be obtained. This implies that improvements by single enzyme modulation are unlikely, which is in agreement with the findings of some investigators in this and other fields.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aspergillus niger / metabolism*
  • Biological Transport
  • Carbohydrate Metabolism
  • Citric Acid / metabolism*
  • Citric Acid Cycle
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Glycolysis
  • Kinetics
  • Models, Chemical
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Oxygen / metabolism
  • Oxygen Consumption
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • Citric Acid
  • Glucose
  • Oxygen