Mechanism of imidazolium ionic liquids toxicity in Saccharomyces cerevisiae and rational engineering of a tolerant, xylose-fermenting strain

Quinn Dickinson, Scott Bottoms, Li Hinchman, Sean McIlwain, Sheena Li, Chad L. Myers, Charles Boone, Joshua J. Coon, Alexander Hebert, Trey K. Sato, Robert Landick, Jeff S. Piotrowski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


Background: Imidazolium ionic liquids (IILs) underpin promising technologies that generate fermentable sugars from lignocellulose for future biorefineries. However, residual IILs are toxic to fermentative microbes such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae, making IIL-tolerance a key property for strain engineering. To enable rational engineering, we used chemical genomic profiling to understand the effects of IILs on S. cerevisiae. Results: We found that IILs likely target mitochondria as their chemical genomic profiles closely resembled that of the mitochondrial membrane disrupting agent valinomycin. Further, several deletions of genes encoding mitochondrial proteins exhibited increased sensitivity to IIL. High-throughput chemical proteomics confirmed effects of IILs on mitochondrial protein levels. IILs induced abnormal mitochondrial morphology, as well as altered polarization of mitochondrial membrane potential similar to valinomycin. Deletion of the putative serine/threonine kinase PTK2 thought to activate the plasma-membrane proton efflux pump Pma1p conferred a significant IIL-fitness advantage. Conversely, overexpression of PMA1 conferred sensitivity to IILs, suggesting that hydrogen ion efflux may be coupled to influx of the toxic imidazolium cation. PTK2 deletion conferred resistance to multiple IILs, including [EMIM]Cl, [BMIM]Cl, and [EMIM]Ac. An engineered, xylose-converting ptk2∆ S. cerevisiae (Y133-IIL) strain consumed glucose and xylose faster and produced more ethanol in the presence of 1 % [BMIM]Cl than the wild-type PTK2 strain. We propose a model of IIL toxicity and resistance. Conclusions: This work demonstrates the utility of chemical genomics-guided biodesign for development of superior microbial biocatalysts for the ever-changing landscape of fermentation inhibitors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number17
JournalMicrobial Cell Factories
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 20 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Dickinson et al.


  • Biocatalysts
  • Biofuel
  • Chemical genomics
  • Ionic liquids
  • Lignocellulosic


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