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Microbial Community Structure and Dynamics of Dark Fire-Cured Tobacco Fermentation

Di Giacomo, Michele, Paolino, Marianna, Silvestro, Daniele, Vigliotta, Giovanni, Imperi, Francesco, Visca, Paolo, Alifano, Pietro, Parente, Dino
Applied and environmental microbiology 2007 v.73 no.3 pp. 825-837
Aerococcus, Corynebacterium, Debaryomyces hansenii, Gram-positive bacteria, Lactobacillus, Staphylococcus, Weissella, citric acid, community structure, denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis, fermentation, leaves, microbial communities, nitrates, nitrites, oxalic acid, pH, population growth, reducing sugars, single-stranded conformational polymorphism, temperature, tobacco
The Italian Toscano cigar production includes a fermentation step that starts when dark fire-cured tobacco leaves are moistened and mixed with ca. 20% prefermented tobacco to form a 500-kg bulk. The dynamics of the process, lasting ca. 18 days, has never been investigated in detail, and limited information is available on microbiota involved. Here we show that Toscano fermentation is invariably associated with the following: (i) an increase in temperature, pH, and total microbial population; (ii) a decrease in reducing sugars, citric and malic acids, and nitrate content; and (iii) an increase in oxalic acid, nitrite, and tobacco-specific nitrosamine content. The microbial community structure and dynamics were investigated by culture-based and culture-independent approaches, including denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis and single-strand conformational polymorphism. Results demonstrate that fermentation is assisted by a complex microbial community, changing in structure and composition during the process. During the early phase, the moderately acidic and mesophilic environment supports the rapid growth of a yeast population predominated by Debaryomyces hansenii. At this stage, Staphylococcaceae (Jeotgalicoccus and Staphylococcus) and Lactobacillales (Aerococcus, Lactobacillus, and Weissella) are the most commonly detected bacteria. When temperature and pH increase, endospore-forming low-G+C content gram-positive bacilli (Bacillus spp.) become evident. This leads to a further pH increase and promotes growth of moderately halotolerant and alkaliphilic Actinomycetales (Corynebacterium and Yania) during the late phase. To postulate a functional role for individual microbial species assisting the fermentation process, a preliminary physiological and biochemical characterization of representative isolates was performed.