What heat is telling us about microbial conversions in nature and technology: from chip- to megacalorimetry.
ABSTRACT The exploitation of microorganisms in natural or technological systems calls for monitoring tools that reflect their metabolic activity in real time and, if necessary, are flexible enough for field application. The Gibbs energy dissipation of assimilated substrates or photons often in the form of heat is a general feature of life processes and thus, in principle, available to monitor and control microbial dynamics. Furthermore, the combination of measured heat fluxes with material fluxes allows the application of Hess' law to either prove expected growth stoichiometries and kinetics or identify and estimate unexpected side reactions. The combination of calorimetry with respirometry is theoretically suited for the quantification of the degree of coupling between catabolic and anabolic reactions. New calorimeter developments overcome the weaknesses of conventional devices, which hitherto limited the full exploitation of this powerful analytical tool. Calorimetric systems can be integrated easily into natural and technological systems of interest. They are potentially suited for high-throughput measurements and are robust enough for field deployment. This review explains what information calorimetric analyses provide; it introduces newly emerging calorimetric techniques and it exemplifies the application of calorimetry in different fields of microbial research.