The amount of Vitreoscilla hemoglobin (VHb) expression was modulated over a broad range with an isopropyl-beta-D-thiogalactopyranoside- (IPTG-) inducible plasmid, and the consequences on microaerobic Escherichia coli physiology were examined in glucose fed-batch cultivations. The effect of IPTG induction on growth under oxygen-limited conditions was most visible during late fed-batch phase where the final cell density increased initially linearly with increasing VHb concentrations, ultimately saturating at a 2.7-fold increase over the VHb-negative (Vhb(-)) control. During the same growth phase, the specific excretions of fermentation by-products, acetate, ethanol, formate, lactate, and succinate from the culture expressing the highest amount of VHb were reduced by 25%, 49%, 68%, 72%, and 50%, respectively, relative to the VHb(-) control. During the exponential growth phase, VHb exerted a positive but smaller control on growth rate, growth yield, and respiration. Varying the amount of VHb from 0 to 3.8 mumol/g dry cell weight (DCW) increased the specific growth rate, the growth yield, and the oxygen consumption rate by 33%, 35%, and 60%, respectively. Increasing VHb concentration to 3.8 mumol/g DCW suppressed the rate of carbon dioxide evolution in the exponential phase by 30%. A metabolic flux distribution analysis incorporating data from these cultivations discloses that VHb(+) cells direct a larger fraction of glucose toward the pentose phosphate pathway and a smaller fraction of carbon through the tricarboxylic acid cycle from acetyl coenzyme A. The overall nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide [NAD(P)H] flux balance indicates that VHb-expressing cells generate a net NADH flux by the NADH/NADPH transhydrogenase while the VHb(-) cells yield a net NADPH flux under the same growth conditions. Flux distribution analysis also reveals that VHb(+) cells have a smaller adenosine triphosphate (ATP) synthesis rate from substrate-level phosphorylation but a larger overall ATP production rate under microaerobic conditions. The thermodynamic efficiency of growth, based on reducing equivalents generated per unit of biomass produced, is greater for VHb(+) cells. (c) 1996 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.