Carboxylic acids are an attractive biorenewable chemical in terms of their flexibility and usage as precursors for a variety of industrial chemicals. It has been demonstrated that such carboxylic acids can be fermentatively produced using engineered microbes, such as Escherichia coli and Saccharomyces cerevisiae. However, like many other attractive biorenewable fuels and chemicals, carboxylic acids become inhibitory to these microbes at concentrations below the desired yield and titer. In fact, their potency as microbial inhibitors is highlighted by the fact that many of these carboxylic acids are routinely used as food preservatives. This review highlights the current knowledge regarding the impact that saturated, straight-chain carboxylic acids, such as hexanoic, octanoic, decanoic, and lauric acids can have on E. coli and S. cerevisiae, with the goal of identifying metabolic engineering strategies to increase robustness. Key effects of these carboxylic acids include damage to the cell membrane and a decrease of the microbial internal pH. Certain changes in cell membrane properties, such as composition, fluidity, integrity, and hydrophobicity, and intracellular pH are often associated with increased tolerance. The availability of appropriate exporters, such as Pdr12, can also increase tolerance. The effect on metabolic processes, such as maintaining appropriate respiratory function, regulation of Lrp activity and inhibition of production of key metabolites such as methionine, are also considered. Understanding the mechanisms of biocatalyst inhibition by these desirable products can aid in the engineering of robust strains with improved industrial performance.
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