High oxygen tension increases itaconic acid accumulation, glucose consumption, and the expression and activity of alternative oxidase in Aspergillus terreus

Ákos P. Molnár, Zoltán Németh, István S. Kolláth, Erzsébet Fekete, Michel Flipphi, Norbert Ág, Áron Soós, Béla Kovács, Erzsébet Sándor, Christian P. Kubicek, Levente Karaffa

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Itaconic acid is a five-carbon dicarboxylic acid with an unsaturated alkene bond, frequently used as a building block for the industrial production of a variety of synthetic polymers. It is also one of the major products of fungal “overflow metabolism” which can be produced in submerged fermentations of the filamentous fungus Aspergillus terreus. At the present, molar yields of itaconate are lower than those obtained in citric acid production in Aspergillus niger. Here, we have studied the possibility that the yield may be limited by the oxygen supply during fermentation and hence tested the effect of the dissolved oxygen concentration on the itaconic acid formation rate and yield in lab-scale bioreactors. The data show that a dissolved oxygen concentration of 2% saturation was sufficient for maximal biomass formation. Raising it to 30% saturation had no effect on biomass formation or the growth rate, but the itaconate yield augmented substantially from 0.53 to 0.85 mol itaconate/mol glucose. Furthermore, the volumetric and specific rates of itaconic acid formation ameliorated by as much as 150% concurrent with faster glucose consumption, shortening the fermentation time by 48 h. Further increasing the dissolved oxygen concentration over 30% saturation had no effect. Moreover, we show that this increase in itaconic acid production coincides with an increase in alternative respiration, circumventing the formation of surplus ATP by the cytochrome electron transport chain, as well as with increased levels of alternative oxidase transcript. We conclude that high(er) itaconic acid accumulation requires a dissolved oxygen concentration that is much higher than that needed for maximal biomass formation, and postulate that the induction of alternative respiration allows the necessary NADH reoxidation ratio without surplus ATP production to increase the glucose consumption and the flux through overflow metabolism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8799-8808
Number of pages10
JournalApplied Microbiology and Biotechnology
Issue number20
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1 2018



  • Alternative oxidase
  • Aspergillus terreus
  • Dissolved oxygen
  • Itaconic acid
  • Respiration
  • Submerged fermentation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology

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