Microbiology of sugar-rich environments: Diversity, ecology and system constraints

Bart Lievens, John E. Hallsworth, Maria I. Pozo, Zouhaier Ben Belgacem, Andrew Stevenson, Kris A. Willems, Hans Jacquemyn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

96 Citations (Scopus)


Microbial habitats that contain an excess of carbohydrate in the form of sugar are widespread in the microbial biosphere. Depending on the type of sugar, prevailing water activity and other substances present, sugar-rich environments can be highly dynamic or relatively stable, osmotically stressful, and/or destabilizing for macromolecular systems, and can thereby strongly impact the microbial ecology. Here, we review the microbiology of different high-sugar habitats, including their microbial diversity and physicochemical parameters, which act to impact microbial community assembly and constrain the ecosystem. Saturated sugar beet juice and floral nectar are used as case studies to explore the differences between the microbial ecologies of low and higher water-activity habitats respectively. Nectar is a paradigm of an open, dynamic and biodiverse habitat populated by many microbial taxa, often yeasts and bacteria such as, amongst many others, Metschnikowia spp. and Acinetobacter spp., respectively. By contrast, thick juice is a relatively stable, species-poor habitat and is typically dominated by a single, xerotolerant bacterium (Tetragenococcus halophilus). A number of high-sugar habitats contain chaotropic solutes (e.g. ethyl acetate, phenols, ethanol, fructose and glycerol) and hydrophobic stressors (e.g. ethyl octanoate, hexane, octanol and isoamyl acetate), all of which can induce chaotropicity-mediated stresses that inhibit or prevent multiplication of microbes. Additionally, temperature, pH, nutrition, microbial dispersion and habitat history can determine or constrain the microbiology of high-sugar milieux. Findings are discussed in relation to a number of unanswered scientific questions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)278-298
Number of pages21
JournalEnvironmental Microbiology
Issue number2
Early online date03 Sep 2014
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2015

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