A Recurrent Silent Mutation Implicates fecA in Ethanol Tolerance by Escherichia coli

Katherine M. Lupino, Kymberleigh A. Romano, Matthew J. Simons, John T. Gregg, Leanna Panepinto, Ghislaine M. Cruz, Lauren Grajek, Gregory A. Caputo, Mark J. Hickman, Gregory B. Hecht

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Background: An issue associated with efficient bioethanol production is the fact that the desired product is toxic to the biocatalyst. Among other effects, ethanol has previously been found to influence the membrane of E. coli in a dose-dependent manner and induce changes in the lipid composition of the plasma membrane. We describe here the characterization of a collection of ethanol-tolerant strains derived from the ethanologenic Escherichia coli strain FBR5. Results: Membrane permeability assays indicate that many of the strains in the collection have alterations in membrane permeability and/or responsiveness of the membrane to environmental changes such as temperature shifts or ethanol exposure. However, analysis of the strains by gas chromatography and mass spectrometry revealed no qualitative changes in the acyl chain composition of membrane lipids in response to ethanol or temperature. To determine whether these strains contain any mutations that might contribute to ethanol tolerance or changes in membrane permeability, we sequenced the entire genome of each strain. Unexpectedly, none of the strains displayed mutations in genes known to control membrane lipid synthesis, and a few strains carried no mutations at all. Interestingly, we found that four independently-isolated strains acquired an identical C → A (V244 V) silent mutation in the ferric citrate transporter gene fecA. Further, we demonstrated that either a deletion of fecA or over-expression of fecA can confer increased ethanol survival, suggesting that any misregulation of fecA expression affects the cellular response to ethanol. Conclusions: The fact that no mutations were observed in several ethanol-tolerant strains suggested that epigenetic mechanisms play a role in E. coli ethanol tolerance and membrane permeability. Our data also represent the first direct phenotypic evidence that the fecA gene plays a role in ethanol tolerance. We propose that the recurring silent mutation may exert an effect on phenotype by altering RNA-mediated regulation of fecA expression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number36
JournalBMC Microbiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 18 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Microbiology
  • Microbiology (medical)


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