Bacterial strains grown in the presence of low concentrations of dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) exhibit significant qualitative and quantitative alterations in the production of secondary metabolites. This effect was confirmed for a variety of biosynthetic families, including chloramphenicol (chorismate), thiostrepton (peptide) and tetracenomycin (polyketide), and for natural and recombinant strains of streptomycetes; a similar effect was seen with antibiotic-producing bacilli such as B. circulans. Increase in antibiotic production was not the result of a change in the growth rate of these organisms, since yields of biomass were similar in media with and without DMSO (up to 3%). We suggest that the addition of compounds such as DMSO provides a means of examining the full biosynthetic potential of microbes and might be used to promote secondary metabolite production. The mode of action of DMSO is not known, but in the cases studied it may act at the level of translation.
Japan Antibiotics Research Association