Limitation of biosurfactant strength produced by bacteria
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Biosurfactants which reduce the surface or interfacial tension of liquids and act as emulsifiers, foaming and dispersing agents with low toxicity, are finding increasing applications in biotechnology and driving the search for novel compounds for further exploitation. Potential biosurfactants sourced from bacteria are often selected first by qualitative assessment of surface tension using simple assays such as the drop collapse technique or by quantitative tensiometry measuring air-liquid interfacial tension of cell-free culture supernatants or purified samples, and subsequently tested for appropriate physicalchemical behaviours using a range of application-specific assays. Highly active or strong biosurfactants have been reported to reduce the surface tension of water to approximately 22 – 25 mN.m-1, and show a range of behaviours determined by the choice of conditions (temperature, pH, salt concentration, etc.) used to test particular aqueous-hydrophobic (oil) mixtures. However, recent analyses of biosurfactant strengths using a predictive statistical approach (Individual distribution identification) have shown that it is unlikely that new compounds will be identified able to significantly reduce aqueous surface tensions below 24 mN.m-1. The mechanistic basis of this limit requires an explanation of why stronger compounds are not produced by bacteria, with a limitation of self-harm to producing cells probably the most likely biophysical explanation. However, behavioural analyses using a combination of emulsion, foam stability and oil-dispersion assays indicates high chemical diversity exists amongst biosurfactants exhibiting the strongest levels of activity (24 – 28 mN.m-1), suggesting that bacteria are still likely to provide a rich source of potentially novel compounds for use in biotechnology.
Fechtner, J. et al. 2017. Limitation of biosurfactant strength produced by bacteria. In: C. R. Upton ed. Biosurfactants: Occurrences, Applications and Research. New York: Nova Science Publishers.