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The bacterium Acetobacter aceti is excellent at metabolizing ethanol into acetic acid.

How does this little bacterium affect a wide variety of ecological niches, and even drive human economy just by doing what it does every day? This lesson describes what Acetobacter aceti is and why it is so important.

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Why Is Acetobacter Important?

The tang of vinegar is familiar to almost everyone, in salads and many other foods. But how does vinegar get to be vinegar? Interestingly enough, it starts out as ethyl alcohol, or ethanol. And the acidic taste of vinegar exists because of a bacterium.Acetobacter aceti is the bacterium responsible for the metabolic production of acetic acid, or vinegar. Its metabolism has several unique biological factors, and Acetobacter is also important in economic and industrial applications.

Bacterial Classification of Acetobacter

Acetobacter is a Gram-negative bacterium, which means it does not react to the Gram stain test.

Gram-negative bacteria do not have the abundant outer layer of peptidoglycan polymer, comprised of amino acids and sugars, that is present in Gram-positive bacteria. Instead, Gram-negative bacteria have a thin peptidoglycan layer that is sandwiched between the cell’s wall and membrane. Under Gram staining, Acetobacter stains red instead of purple.

A classic illustration of Acetobacter.
Formation of acetic acid from ethanol.
acetic acid formation

The end result is acetic acid, or vinegar.

Acetobacter produces vinegar as it takes in ethanol from its environment, synthesizing the alcohol into a product that gives its body energy, while giving us an industrial and economic product as its waste.

Economic and Industrial Uses Of Acetobacter

Historically, the primary economic use of Acetobacter aceti has been in the production of vinegar from wines. Wine spoilage can also be determined by the presence of Acetobacter, which creates a vinegary taste in the wine.

The acetic acid produced by Acetobacter is also used in the manufacturing of rubber, plastic, and certain chemicals used in photography.

Lesson Summary

Vinegar, or acetic acid, is produced by the gram-negative bacterium Acetobacter during normal metabolic processes. This bacterium can metabolize the ethanol produced from fermented sugar, and produce acetic acid as a waste product. The acetic acid produced by this acidophile bacterium has several economic and industrial applications. The bacterium has an especially acid-resistant membrane to help it survive in acidic conditions.The next time you taste the tang of vinegar, or notice some spoilage in wine, remember that the metabolism of this little bacterium makes it all happen.

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