A separate role for water activity in the conversion of sugars to ethanol by two strains of yeast is identified. During fermentation of both single and mixed sugar substrates, the water activity was shown to remain constant during the logarithmic growth phase. This is despite the changes in concentration of substrates and product, the constancy reflecting the fact that the greater influence of ethanol on the solution activity is counterbalanced, in the early stages of the fermentation, by its low yield. The end of the log phase of growth coincides with the start of a period of gradually decreasing water activity. For the more ethanol-tolerant strain UQM66Y, growth was found to cease at a constant value of water activity while that for the less tolerant strain UQM70Y depended on both ethanol concentration and water activity. It is argued that water activity is a more appropriate variable than ethanol concentration for describing some of the nonspecific inhibitory effects apparent in ethanol fermentations. A straightforward method for the calculation of water activity during such fermentations based on the use of solution osmolality is presented.
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