Cytoplasmic membrane fluidity and fatty acid composition of Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans in response to pH stress

Extremophiles. 2010 Sep;14(5):427-41. doi: 10.1007/s00792-010-0319-2. Epub 2010 Jun 27.


Strain variation in the acidophile Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans was examined as a product of membrane adaptation in response to pH stress. We tested the effects of sub and supra-optimal pH in two type strains and four strains isolated from acid mine drainage water around Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. Growth rate, membrane fluidity and phase, determined from the fluorescence polarization of 1,6-diphenyl-1,3,5-hexatriene, and fatty acid profiles were compared. The effect of pH 1.5 was the most pronounced compared to the other pH values of 1.8, 3.1, and 3.5. Three different types of response to lower pH were observed, the first of which appeared to maintain cellular homeostasis more effectively. This adaptive mode included a decrease in membrane fluidity and concomitant depression of the phase transition in two distinct membrane lipid components. This was explained through the increase in saturated fatty acids (predominantly 16:0 and cyclopropane 19:0 w8c) with a concomitant decrease in 18:1 w7c fatty acid. The other strains also showed common adaptive mechanisms of specific fatty acid remodeling increasing the abundance of short-chain fatty acids. However, we suspect membrane permeability was compromised due to potential phase separation, which may interfere with energy transduction and viability at pH 1.5. We demonstrate that membrane physiology permits differentiating pH tolerance in strains of this extreme acidophile.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acidithiobacillus / growth & development
  • Acidithiobacillus / metabolism*
  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism*
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism*
  • Fluorescence Polarization
  • Fresh Water / microbiology
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Kinetics
  • Membrane Fluidity*
  • Mining
  • Ontario
  • Stress, Physiological*


  • Fatty Acids