Metabolite secretion in microorganisms: the theory of metabolic overflow put to the test
Review article, 2018

Introduction Microbial cells secrete many metabolites during growth, including important intermediates of the central carbon metabolism. This has not been taken into account by researchers when modeling microbial metabolism for metabolic engineering and systems biology studies. Materials and Methods The uptake of metabolites by microorganisms is well studied, but our knowledge of how and why they secrete different intracellular compounds is poor. The secretion of metabolites by microbial cells has traditionally been regarded as a consequence of intracellular metabolic overflow. Conclusions Here, we provide evidence based on time-series metabolomics data that microbial cells eliminate some metabolites in response to environmental cues, independent of metabolic overflow. Moreover, we review the different mechanisms of metabolite secretion and explore how this knowledge can benefit metabolic modeling and engineering.

Microbial metabolism

Systems biology

Active efflux

Metabolic engineering

Metabolic modeling




Farhana R. Pinu

New Zealand Institute for Plant & Food Research Ltd

Ninna Granucci

University of Auckland

James Daniell

University of Auckland


Ting-Li Han

University of Auckland

Sonia Carneiro

University of Minho

Isabel Rocha

University of Minho

Jens B Nielsen

Chalmers, Biology and Biological Engineering, Systems and Synthetic Biology

Technical University of Denmark (DTU)

Silas G. Villas-Boas

University of Auckland


1573-3882 (ISSN) 1573-3890 (eISSN)

Vol. 14 4 43

Subject Categories

Pharmaceutical Sciences


Other Medical Biotechnology



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