Background: Increasingly lignocellulosic biomass hydrolysates are used as the feedstock for industrial fermentations. These biomass hydrolysates are complex mixtures of different fermentable sugars, but also inhibitors and salts that affect the performance of the microbial production host. The performance of six industrially relevant microorganisms, i.e. two bacteria (Escherichia coli and Corynebacterium glutamicum), two yeasts (Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Pichia stipitis) and two fungi (Aspergillus niger and Trichoderma reesei) were compared for their (i) ability to utilize monosaccharides present in lignocellulosic hydrolysates, (ii) resistance against inhibitors present in lignocellulosic hydrolysates, (iii) their ability to utilize and grow on different feedstock hydrolysates (corn stover, wheat straw, sugar cane bagasse and willow wood). The feedstock hydrolysates were generated in two manners: (i) thermal pretreatment under mild acid conditions followed by enzymatic hydrolysis and (ii) a non-enzymatic method in which the lignocellulosic biomass is pretreated and hydrolyzed by concentrated sulfuric acid. Moreover, the ability of the selected hosts to utilize waste glycerol from the biodiesel industry was evaluated.
Results: Large differences in the performance of the six tested microbial production hosts were observed. Carbon source versatility and inhibitor resistance were the major discriminators between the performances of these microorganisms. Surprisingly all 6 organisms performed relatively well on pretreated crude feedstocks. P. stipitis and A. niger were found to give the overall best performance C. glutamicum and S. cerevisiae were shown to be the least adapted to renewable feedstocks.
Conclusion: Based on the results obtained we conclude that a substrate oriented instead of the more commonly used product oriented approach towards the selection of a microbial production host will avoid the requirement for extensive metabolic engineering. Instead of introducing multiple substrate utilization and detoxification routes to efficiently utilize lignocellulosic hydrolysates only one biosynthesis route forming the product of interest has to be engineered.