A study of ethanol tolerance in yeast

Crit Rev Biotechnol. 1990;9(4):287-304. doi: 10.3109/07388558909036740.


The ethanol tolerance of yeast and other microorganisms has remained a controversial area despite the many years of study. The complex inhibition mechanism of ethanol and the lack of a universally accepted definition and method to measure ethanol tolerance have been prime reasons for the controversy. A number of factors such as plasma membrane composition, media composition, mode of substrate feeding, osmotic pressure, temperature, intracellular ethanol accumulation, and byproduct formation have been shown to influence the ethanol tolerance of yeast. Media composition was found to have a profound effect upon the ability of a yeast strain to ferment concentrated substrates (high osmotic pressure) and to ferment at higher temperatures. Supplementation with peptone-yeast extract, magnesium, or potassium salts has a significant and positive effect upon overall fermentation rates. An intracellular accumulation of ethanol was observed during the early stages of fermentation. As fermentation proceeds, the intracellular and extracellular ethanol concentrations become similar. In addition, increases in osmotic pressure are associated with increased intracellular accumulation of ethanol. However, it was observed that nutrient limitation, not increased intracellular accumulation of ethanol, is responsible to some extent for the decreases in growth and fermentation activity of yeast cells at higher osmotic pressure and temperature.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biotechnology
  • Cell Membrane / drug effects
  • Drug Tolerance / physiology
  • Ethanol / metabolism
  • Ethanol / pharmacology*
  • Osmotic Pressure
  • Saccharomyces / drug effects
  • Saccharomyces / metabolism
  • Temperature
  • Yeasts / drug effects*
  • Yeasts / metabolism


  • Ethanol