Papers in the Biological Sciences


Date of this Version

September 2005


Published in APPLIED AND ENVIRONMENTAL MICROBIOLOGY, Sept. 2005, p. 5171–5176 Vol. 71, No. 9. Copyright © 2005, American Society for Microbiology. Used by permission.


We exploited the unique ecological niche of oil fly larval guts to isolate a strain of Staphylococcus haemolyticus which may be the most solvent-tolerant gram-positive bacterium yet described. This organism is able to tolerate 100% toluene, benzene, and p-xylene on plate overlays and saturating levels of these solvents in monophasic liquid cultures. A comparison of membrane fatty acids by gas chromatography after growth in liquid media with and without toluene showed that in cells continuously exposed to solvent the proportion of anteiso fatty acids increased from 25.8 to 33.7% while the proportion of 20:0 straight-chain fatty acids decreased from 19.3 to 10.1%. No changes in the membrane phospholipid composition were noted. Thus, S. haemolyticus alters its membrane fluidity via fatty acid composition to become more fluid when it is exposed to solvent. This response is opposite that commonly found in gram-negative bacteria, which change their fatty acids so that the cytoplasmic membrane is less fluid. Extreme solvent tolerance in S. haemolyticus is not accompanied by abnormal resistance to anionic or cationic detergents. Finally, six strains of Staphylococcus aureus and five strains of Staphylococcus epidermidis, which were not obtained by solvent selection, also exhibited exceptional solvent tolerance.

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