DOI: 10.1128/spectrum.02536-23 ISSN: 2165-0497

A transcriptomic atlas of acute stress response to low pH in multiple Issatchenkia orientalis strains

Veronika Dubinkina, Shounak Bhogale, Ping-Hung Hsieh, Payam Dibaeinia, Ananthan Nambiar, Sergei Maslov, Yasuo Yoshikuni, Saurabh Sinha
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Cell Biology
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Genetics
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • Ecology
  • Physiology


Because of its natural stress tolerance to low pH, Issatchenkia orientalis (a.k.a. Pichia kudriavzevii) is a promising non-model yeast for bio-based production of organic acids. Yet, this organism is relatively unstudied, and specific mechanisms of its tolerance to low pH are poorly understood, limiting commercial use. In this study, we selected 12 I. orientalis strains with varying acid stress tolerance (six tolerant and six susceptible) and profiled their transcriptomes in different pH conditions to study potential mechanisms of pH tolerance in this species. We identified hundreds of genes whose expression response is shared by tolerant strains but not by susceptible strains, or vice versa, as well as genes whose responses are reversed between tolerant and susceptible strains. We mapped regulatory mechanisms of transcriptomic responses via motif analysis as well as differential network reconstruction, identifying several transcription factors, including Stb5, Mac1, and Rtg1/Rtg3, some of which are known for their roles in acid response in Saccharomyces cerevisiae . Functional genomics analysis of short-listed genes and transcription factors suggested significant roles for energy metabolism and translation-related processes, as well as the cell wall integrity pathway and RTG-dependent retrograde signaling pathway. Finally, we conducted additional experiments for two organic acids, 3-hydroxypropionate and citramalate, to eliminate acid-specific effects and found potential roles for glycolysis and trehalose biosynthesis specifically for response to low pH. In summary, our approach of comparative transcriptomics and phenotypic contrasting, along with a multi-pronged bioinformatics analysis, suggests specific mechanisms of tolerance to low pH in I. orientalis that merit further validation through experimental perturbation and engineering.


Issatchenkia orientalis is a promising industrial chassis to produce biofuels and bioproducts due to its high tolerance to multiple environmental stresses such as low pH, heat, and other chemicals otherwise toxic for the most widely used microbes. Yet, little is known about specific mechanisms of such tolerance in this organism, hindering our ability to engineer this species to produce valuable biochemicals. Here, we report a comprehensive study of the mechanisms of acidic tolerance in this species via transcriptome profiling across variable pH for 12 different strains with different phenotypes. We found multiple regulatory mechanisms involved in tolerance to low pH in different strains of I. orientalis , marking potential targets for future gene editing and perturbation experiments.

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