The effects of agitation and aeration upon synthesis and molecular weight of the biopolymer gellan were systematically investigated in batch fermenter cultures of the bacterium, Sphingomonas paucimobilis. High aeration rates and vigorous agitation enhanced growth of S. paucimobilis. Although gellan formation occurred mainly in parallel with cell growth, the increase in cells able to synthesise gellan did not always lead to high gellan production. For example, at very high agitation rates (1000 rpm) growth was stimulated at the expense of biopolymer synthesis. Maximal gellan concentration was obtained at 500 rpm agitation and either 1 or 2 vvm aeration (12.3 and 12.4 g/l gellan, respectively). An increase in aeration (from 1 to 2 vvm) enhanced gellan synthesis only at low agitation rates (250 rpm). However, high aeration or dissolved oxygen was not necessary for high gellan synthesis, in fact oxygen limitation always preceded the phase of maximum gellan production and probably enhanced polysaccharide biosynthesis. Some gellan was formed even after glucose exhaustion. This was attributed to the intracellular accumulation of polyhydroxyalkanoates, (such as polyxydroxybutyrate) which were found in S. paucimobilis cells indicating the existence of a carbon storage system, which may contribute to gellan biosynthesis under glucose-limiting conditions. The autolysis of the culture, which occurred at the late stages of the process, seemed to be triggered mainly by limitations in mass (nutrient) transfer, due to the highly viscous process fluid that gradually develops. Rheological measurements generally gave a very good near real time estimate of maximum biopolymer concentration offering the possibility of improved process control relative to time consuming gravimetric assay methods. While mechanical depolymerisation of gellan did not occur, high aeration rates (2 vvm) led to production of gellan of low molecular weight (at either 250 or 500 rpm). This effect of aeration rate upon gellan molecular weight is reported here for the first time, and is important for the properties and applications of gellan. Mechanisms which may have led to this are discussed, but control of molecular weight of the biopolymers is clearly an area needing further research.
- molecular weight