BACKGROUND: Fungi are premier hosts for the high-yield secretion of proteins for biomedical and industrial applications. The stability and activity of these secreted proteins is often dependent on the culture pH. As yeast acidifies the commonly used synthetic complete drop-out (SD) media that contains ammonium sulfate, the pH of the media needs to be buffered in order to maintain a desired extracellular pH during biomass production. At the same time, many buffering agents affect growth at the concentrations needed to support a stable pH. Although the standard for biotechnological research and development is shaken batch cultures or microtiter plate cultures that cannot be easily automatically pH-adjusted during growth, there is no comparative study that evaluates the buffering capacity and growth effects of different media types across pH-values in order to develop a pH-stable batch culture system.
RESULTS: We systematically test the buffering capacity and growth effects of a citrate-phosphate buffer (CPB) from acidic to neutral pH across different media types. These media types differ in their nitrogen source (ammonium sulfate, urea or both). We find that the widely used synthetic drop-out media that uses ammonium sulfate as nitrogen source can only be effectively buffered at buffer concentrations that also affect growth. At lower concentrations, yeast biomass production still acidifies the media. When replacing the ammonium sulfate with urea, the media alkalizes. We then develop a medium combining ammonium sulfate and urea which can be buffered at low CPB concentrations that do not affect growth. In addition, we show that a buffer based on Tris/HCl is not effective in maintaining any of our media types at neutral pH even at relatively high concentrations.
CONCLUSION: Here we show that the buffering of yeast batch cultures is not straight-forward and addition of a buffering agent to set a desired starting pH does not guarantee pH-maintenance during growth. In response, we present a buffered media system based on an ammonium sulfate/urea medium that enables relatively stable pH-maintenance across a wide pH-range without affecting growth. This buffering system is useful for protein-secretion-screenings, antifungal activity assays, as well as for other pH-dependent basic biology or biotechnology projects.