Membrane phase behavior of Escherichia coli during desiccation, rehydration, and growth recovery

Cally M. Scherber, Janet L. Schottel, Alptekin Aksan

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41 Scopus citations


The membrane lipid bilayer is one of the primary cellular components affected by variations in hydration level, which cause changes in lipid packing that may have detrimental effects on cell viability. In this study, Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy was used to quantify changes in the membrane phase behavior, as identified by membrane phase transition temperature (Tm), of Escherichia coli during desiccation and rehydration. Extensive cell desiccation (1 week at 20%-40% RH) resulted in an increase in Tm from 8.4 ± 1.7 °C (in undried control samples) to 16.5 ± 1.3 °C. Fatty acid methyl ester analysis (FAME) on desiccated samples showed an increase in the percent composition of saturated fatty acids (FAs) and a decrease in unsaturated FAs in comparison to undried control samples. However, rehydration of E. coli resulted in a gradual regression in Tm, which began approximately 1 day after initial rehydration and plateaued at 12.5 ± 1.8 °C after approximately 2 days of rehydration. FAME analysis during progressive rehydration revealed an increase in the membrane percent composition of unsaturated FAs and a decrease in saturated FAs. Cell recovery analysis during rehydration supported the previous findings that showed that E. coli enter a viable but non-culturable (VBNC) state during desiccation and recover following prolonged rehydration. In addition, we found that the delay period of approximately 1 day of rehydration prior to membrane reconfiguration (i.e. decrease in Tm and increase in membrane percent composition of unsaturated FAs) also preceded cell recovery. These results suggest that changes in membrane structure and state related to greater membrane fluidity may be associated with cell proliferation capabilities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2427-2435
Number of pages9
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta - Biomembranes
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by an NSF REU supplement (CBET-0807858) to A.A., an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) grant from University of Minnesota to C.S. and A.A., and a grant from the MN Agricultural Experiment Station to J.S. The authors thank Mr. Vishard Ragoonanan for careful reading of the manuscript and for his constructive comments, and Mr. Eduardo Reategui for his help with SEM imaging.


  • Desiccation
  • E. coli
  • FTIR
  • Membrane phase change
  • VBNC


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