Microbial fatty acids and thermal adaptation

Crit Rev Microbiol. 1994;20(4):285-328. doi: 10.3109/10408419409113560.


The existing literature on the role of fatty acids in microbial temperature adaptation is reviewed. Several modes of change of cellular fatty acids at varying environmental temperatures are shown to exist in yeasts and fungi, Gram-negative bacteria, and bacteria containing iso- and anteiso-branched fatty acids, as well as in a few Gram-positive bacteria. Consequently, the degree of fatty acid unsaturation and cyclization, fatty acid chain length, branching, and cellular fatty acid content increase, decrease, or remain unaltered on lowering the temperature. Moreover, microorganisms seem to be able to change from one mode or alter the cellular fatty acid profile temperature dependently to another on lowering the temperature, as well as even within the same growth temperature range, depending on growth conditions. Therefore, the effect of the temperature on cellular fatty acids appears to be more complicated than known earlier. However, similarities found in the modes of change of cellular fatty acids at varying environmental temperatures in several microorganisms within the above mentioned groups support the existence of a limited amount of common regulatory mechanisms. The models presented enable the prediction of temperature-induced changes occurring in the fatty acids of microorganisms, and enzymatic steps of the fatty acid biosynthesis that possibly are under temperature control.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological
  • Bacterial Physiological Phenomena*
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism*
  • Fungi / physiology*
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / physiology
  • Membrane Lipids / metabolism
  • Temperature*
  • Yeasts / physiology


  • Fatty Acids
  • Membrane Lipids