Surface Properties and Cellular Energetics of Bacteria in Response to the Presence of Hydrocarbons

  • Hermann J. Heipieper
  • Milva Pepi
  • Thomas Baumgarten
  • Christian Eberlein
Reference work entry
Part of the Handbook of Hydrocarbon and Lipid Microbiology book series (HHLM)


Many toxic hydrocarbons that are present as environmental pollutants are potential substrates for bacteria; other, very hydrophobic hydrocarbons exhibit extremely low water solubility and are poorly bioavailable. The development of specific adaptive mechanisms to the toxicity as well as the low bioavailability of these substrates allows many bacteria to cope with such challenges. Strategies of bacteria to increase the accessibility of these compounds are modifications of their cell surfaces or the release of biosurfactants. Both “strategies” aim at an increased accessibility of the compounds, either by the reduction of surface tension or by allowing a direct hydrophobic-hydrophobic interaction between cell surface and the substrates. The toxicity of hydrocarbons is mainly caused by their permeabilizing effect on the cytoplasmic membranes leading also to a loss of ATP and a decrease in the proton gradient. Bacteria are able to modify their cellular energetics in order to adapt to the presence of toxic hydrocarbons by activating their electron transport phosphorylation systems allowing homeostasis of ATP level and energy charge in the presence of the toxic conditions, however, at the price of a reduced growth yield.


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hermann J. Heipieper
    • 1
  • Milva Pepi
    • 2
  • Thomas Baumgarten
    • 3
  • Christian Eberlein
    • 1
  1. 1.Department Environmental BiotechnologyHelmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZLeipzigGermany
  2. 2.Stazione Zoologica Anton DohrnVilla ComunaleNaplesItaly
  3. 3.Center for Biomembrane Research, Department of Biochemistry and BiophysicsStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden

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