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Microbial lipids have drawn increasing attention in recent years as promising raw materials for biodiesel production, and the use of lignocellulosic hydrolysates as carbon sources seems to be a feasible strategy for cost-effective lipid fermentation with oleaginous microorganisms on a large scale. During the hydrolysis of lignocellulosic materials with dilute acid, however, various kinds of inhibitors, especially large amounts of organic acids, will be produced, which substantially decrease the fermentability of lignocellulosic hydrolysates. To overcome the inhibitory effects of organic acids, it is critical to understand their impact on the growth and lipid accumulation of oleaginous microorganisms.
In our present work, we investigated for the first time the effect of ten representative organic acids in lignocellulosic hydrolysates on the growth and lipid accumulation of oleaginous yeast Trichosporon fermentans cells. In contrast to previous reports, we found that the toxicity of the organic acids to the cells was not directly related to their hydrophobicity. It is worth noting that most organic acids tested were less toxic than aldehydes to the cells, and some could even stimulate the growth and lipid accumulation at a low concentration. Unlike aldehydes, most binary combinations of organic acids exerted no synergistic inhibitory effects on lipid production. The presence of organic acids decelerated the consumption of glucose, whereas it influenced the utilization of xylose in a different and complicated way. In addition, all the organic acids tested, except furoic acid, inhibited the malic activity of T. fermentans. Furthermore, the inhibition of organic acids on cell growth was dependent more on inoculum size, temperature and initial pH than on lipid content.
This work provides some meaningful information about the effect of organic acid in lignocellulosic hydrolysates on the lipid production of oleaginous yeast, which is helpful for optimization of biomass hydrolysis processes, detoxified pretreatment of hydrolysates and lipid production using lignocellulosic materials.