The roles and applications of chaotropes and kosmotropes in industrial fermentation processes

David J. Timson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Chaotropicity has long been recognised as a property of some compounds. Chaotropes tend to disrupt non-covalent interactions in biological macromolecules (e.g. proteins and nucleic acids) and supramolecular assemblies (e.g. phospholipid membranes). This results in the destabilisation and unfolding of these macromolecules and assemblies. Unsurprisingly, these compounds are typically harmful to living cells since they act against multiple targets, comprising cellular integrity and function. Kosmotropes are the opposite of chaotropes and these compounds promote the ordering and rigidification of biological macromolecules and assemblies. Since many biological macromolecules have optimum levels of flexibility, kosmotropes can also inhibit their activity and can be harmful to cells. Some products of industrial fermentations, most notably alcohols, are chaotropic. This property can be a limiting factor on rates of production and yields. It has been hypothesised that the addition of kosmotropes may mitigate the chaotropicity of some fermentation products. Some microbes naturally adapt to chaotropic environments by producing kosmotropic compatible solutes. Exploitation of this in industrial fermentations has been hampered by scientific and economic issues. The cost of the kosmotropes and their removal during purification needs to be considered. We lack a complete understanding of the chemistry of chaotropicity and a robust, quantitative framework for estimating overall chaotropicities of mixtures. This makes it difficult to predict the amount of kosmotrope required to neutralise the chaotropicity. This review considers examples of industrial fermentations where chaotropicity is an issue and suggests possible mitigations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number89
JournalWorld Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jun 2020

Bibliographical note

This is a post-peer-review, pre-copyedit version of an article published in World Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology. The final authenticated version is available online at:


  • biofuels
  • ectoine
  • entropy
  • ethanol
  • fermentation
  • urea
  • vanillin
  • Ethanol
  • Entropy
  • Biofuels
  • Fermentation
  • Urea
  • Ectoine
  • Vanillin


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