The effects of different humectants (sodium chloride, sucrose, and glycerol) on the growth of and compatible solute (glycine betaine, proline, and carnitine) uptake by the osmotolerant foodborne pathogen Staphylococcus aureus were investigated. While growth in the presence of the impermeant humectants sodium chloride and sucrose induced the accumulation of proline and glycine betaine by cells, growth in the presence of the permeant humectant glycerol did not. When compatible solutes were omitted from low-water-activity media, growth was very poor in the presence of impermeant humectants. In contrast, the addition of compatible solutes had essentially no effect on growth when cells were grown in low-water-activity media containing glycerol as the humectant. Carnitine was found to accumulate to high intracellular levels in osmotically stressed cells when proline and glycine betaine were absent, making it a potentially important compatible solute for this organism.

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Author notes

Present address: Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, University of Texas–Houston Medical School, 6432 Fannin, Room 1.306, Houston, TX 77030, USA.