Continuous Culture- Definition, Principle, Process, Types, Applications, Limitations
Continuous culture is a type of microbial cultivation in which a constant flow of fresh medium containing essential nutrients is supplied to the culture vessel, and an equal amount of culture broth containing cells, metabolites, and waste products is simultaneously removed. This way, the volume and the composition of the culture remain constant over time, and the cells grow at a steady rate in a stable environment. Continuous culture is also known as continuous fermentation or chemostat culture.
- Simplified scale-up: Continuous culture keeps the working volume constant, which makes it easier to scale up the process based on a constant-power-to-volume strategy. This means that the power input per unit volume is kept the same when increasing the size of the bioreactor, which ensures similar mixing and mass transfer conditions.
- Optimum conditions: Continuous culture enables the setting up of optimum conditions for maximum and long-term product synthesis. By controlling the growth-limiting nutrient concentration, the microorganisms can be maintained at a desired growth rate and metabolic state. This can enhance the yield and quality of the product, as well as avoid the formation of unwanted byproducts.
- Stable product quality: Continuous culture results in a stable product quality, as the steady-state consists of homogeneous cell culture with a constant biomass and metabolite concentration. This reduces the variability and uncertainty in the product characteristics and performance.
- Higher productivity: Continuous culture leads to higher productivity per unit volume, as time-consuming tasks, such as cleaning and sterilization, are unnecessary. Cultures in a steady-state can last for days, weeks, or even months, thus greatly reducing the downtime and making the process more economically competitive.
- Easy monitoring and control: Continuous culture allows for easy monitoring and control of parameters such as pH, oxygen tension, concentration of excretion products, and population densities. These parameters can be measured online or offline and adjusted accordingly to maintain optimal conditions for growth and product formation.
A continuous culture is a type of bioreactor system where the microorganisms are grown at a constant rate and under constant environmental conditions. The principle of continuous culture is based on two main factors:
- How the material (nutrients, cells, products, and waste) passes through the reactor, which depends on the design of the bioreactor.
- The kinetics of the microbial growth and metabolism, which depend on the availability of growth-limiting nutrients and other environmental parameters.
The performance and outcome of a continuous culture depend on several factors that influence the growth and metabolism of the microorganisms. These factors can be classified into two main categories:
- The design of the reactor: This refers to how the material (nutrients, cells, products, and waste) passes through the reactor and how well it is mixed. Different types of reactors have different advantages and disadvantages in terms of efficiency, stability, productivity, and scalability.
- The kinetics of the reaction: This refers to how the microorganisms consume the nutrients and produce the products in relation to their growth rate and environmental conditions. The kinetics of the reaction determine the optimal operating conditions for maximizing the yield and productivity of the desired product.
In continuous culture, an open system is set up in which one or more feed streams containing the necessary nutrients are fed continuously, while the effluent stream containing the cells, products, and residuals is continuously removed. A steady-state is established by maintaining an equal volumetric flow rate for the feed and effluent streams. The culture volume is kept constant, and all nutrient concentrations remain at constant steady-state values. During this process, the exponential growth phase is prolonged and the formation of byproducts is avoided.
A turbidostat is a type of continuous culture device that controls the cell growth by adjusting the flow rate of fresh media based on the turbidity of the culture vessel. The turbidity is a measure of the optical density or light scattering caused by the cell population in the culture. A turbidostat has a feedback loop that allows the dilution rate to vary according to the set value for turbidity.
A chemostat is a type of continuous culture system in which the growth rate of the microorganisms is controlled by the rate of nutrient supply. In a chemostat, the culture medium is continuously pumped into a bioreactor at a constant flow rate, and the culture broth containing the cells and products is continuously removed at the same rate. The volume of the culture broth in the bioreactor is kept constant by a device called an overflow weir. The concentration of the limiting nutrient (such as glucose or nitrogen) in the feed medium is also kept constant.
A plug-flow reactor is a type of continuous culture system that operates in a tubular mode. In this system, the culture medium flows steadily through a long tube and the cells are recycled from the outlet to the inlet. The advantage of this system is that it can achieve high cell densities and productivities without diluting the culture or limiting the substrate concentration. The disadvantage is that it requires a large reactor volume and a complex design to maintain a uniform flow and prevent back mixing.
Continuous culture fermentation has been used for various purposes in different fields of biotechnology, such as:
- Production of single-cell protein, organic solvents, starter cultures, etc.
- Production of beer, fodder yeast, vinegar, baker’s yeast, etc.
- Production of secondary metabolites, such as antibiotics from a Penicillium or a Streptomyces sp.
- Production of recombinant proteins, such as insulin, interferon, and vaccines from microorganisms
- Municipal waste treatment processes, such as activated sludge and anaerobic digestion
- Cell physiology studies, such as metabolic flux analysis, gene expression profiling, and adaptive evolution
Continuous culture has many advantages, but it also has some limitations that need to be considered. Some of the limitations are:
- Sterility maintenance
- Downstream processing
- Non-growth-related products
- Filamentous organisms
- Strain stability
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