BackgroundLignocellulosic materials are abundant and among the most important potential sources for bioethanol production. Although the pretreatment of lignocellulose is necessary for efficient saccharification and fermentation, numerous by-products, including furan derivatives, weak acids, and phenolic compounds, are generated in the pretreatment step. Many of these components inhibit the growth and fermentation of yeast. In particular, vanillin is one of the most effective inhibitors in lignocellulose hydrolysates because it inhibits fermentation at very low concentrations. To identify the genes required for tolerance to vanillin, we screened a set of diploid yeast deletion mutants, which are powerful tools for clarifying the function of particular genes.ResultsSeventy-six deletion mutants were identified as vanillin-sensitive mutants. The numerous deleted genes in the vanillin-sensitive mutants were classified under the functional categories for 'chromatin remodeling' and 'vesicle transport', suggesting that these functions are important for vanillin tolerance. The cross-sensitivity of the vanillin-sensitive mutants to furan derivatives, weak acids, and phenolic compounds was also examined. Genes for ergosterol biosynthesis were required for tolerance to all inhibitory compounds tested, suggesting that ergosterol is a key component of tolerance to various inhibitors.ConclusionOur analysis predicts that vanillin tolerance in Saccharomyces cerevisiae is affected by various complicated processes that take place on both the molecular and the cellular level. In addition, the ergosterol biosynthetic process is important for achieving a tolerance to various inhibitors. Our findings provide a biotechnological basis for the molecular engineering as well as for screening of more robust yeast strains that may potentially be useful in bioethanol fermentation.