Application of macroscopic principles to microbial metabolism


  • J. A. Roels

    1. Laboratory for General and Technical Biology, Department of Chemical Engineering, Delft University of Technology, Julianalaan 67, 2628 BC Delft, The Netherlands
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General expressions for mass, elemental, energy, and entropy balances are derived and applied to microbial growth and product formation. The state of the art of the application of elemental balances to aerobic and heterotrophic growth is reviewed and extended somewhat to include the majority of the cases commonly encountered in biotechnology. The degree of reduction concept is extended to include nitrogen sources other than ammonia. The relationship between a number of accepted measures for the comparison of substrate yields is investigated. The theory is illustrated using a generalized correlation for oxygen yield data. The stoichiometry of anaerobic product formation is briefly treated, a limit to the maximum carbon conservation in product is derived, using the concept of elemental balance. In the treatment of growth energetics the correct statement of the second law of thermodynamics for growing organisms is emphasized. For aerobic heterotrophic growth the concept of thermodynamic efficiency is used to formulate a limit the substrate yield can never surpass. It is combined with a limit due to the fact that the maximum carbon conservation in biomass can obviously never surpass unity. It is shown that growth on substrates of a low degree of reduction is energy limited, for substrates of a high degree of reduction carbon limitation takes over. Based on a literature review concerning yield data some semiempirical notions useful for a preliminary evolution of aerobic heterotrophic growth are developed. The thermodynamic efficiency definition is completed by two other efficiency measures, which allow derivation of simple equations for oxygen consumption and heat production. The range of validity of the constancy of the rate of heat production to the rate of oxygen consumption is analyzed using these efficiency measures. The energetic of anaerobic growth are treated—it is shown that an approximate analysis in terms of an enthalpy balance is not valid for this case, the evaluation of the efficiency of growth has to be based on Gibbs free energy changes. A preliminary analysis shows the existence of regularities concerning the free energy conservation on anaerobic growth. The treatment is extended to include the effect of growth rate by the introduction of a linear relationship for substrate consumption. Aerobic and anaerobic growth are discussed using this relationship. A correlation useful in judging the potentialities for improvement in anaerobic product formation processes is derived. Finally the relevance of macroscopic principles to the modeling of bioengineering systems is discussed.