Influence of membrane fatty acid composition and fluidity on airborne survival of Escherichia coli

Tsz Wai Ng, Wing Lam Chan, Ka Man LAI*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Finding ways to predict and control the survival of bacterial aerosols can contribute to the development of ways to alleviate a number of crucial microbiological problems. Significant damage in the membrane integrity of Escherichia coli during aerosolization and airborne suspension has been revealed which has prompted the question of how the membrane fatty acid composition and fluidity influence the survival of airborne bacteria. Two approaches of using isogenic mutants and different growth temperatures were selected to manipulate the membrane fatty acid composition of E. coli before challenging the bacteria with different relative humidity (RH) levels in an aerosol chamber. Among the mutants (fabR, cfa. fadA), fabR had the lowest membrane fluidity index (FI) and generally showed a higher survival than the parental strain. Surprisingly, its resistance to airborne stress was so strong that its viability was fully maintained even after airborne suspension at 40% RH, a harsh RH level to bacterial survival. Moreover, E. coli cultured at 20 °C with a higher FI than that at 30 and 37 °C generally had a lower survival after aerosolization and airborne suspension. Unlike FI, individual fatty acid and cyclopropane fatty acid composition did not relate to the bacterial survival. Lipid peroxidation of the membrane was undetected in all the bacteria. Membrane fluidity plays a stronger role in determining the bacteria survival during airborne suspension than during aerosolization. Certain relationships between FI and bacteria survival were identified, which could help predict the transmission of bacteria under different conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3327-3336
Number of pages10
JournalApplied Microbiology and Biotechnology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2018

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology

User-Defined Keywords

  • Airborne bacteria
  • E. coli
  • Fatty acids
  • Membrane fluidity


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