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Concept: Cellulosic ethanol


ABSTRACT Lignocellulosic biomass, the most abundant polymer on Earth, is typically composed of three major constituents: cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. The crystallinity of cellulose, hydrophobicity of lignin, and encapsulation of cellulose by the lignin-hemicellulose matrix are three major factors that contribute to the observed recalcitrance of lignocellulose. By means of designer cellulosome technology, we can overcome the recalcitrant properties of lignocellulosic substrates and thus increase the level of native enzymatic degradation. In this context, we have integrated six dockerin-bearing cellulases and xylanases from the highly cellulolytic bacterium, Thermobifida fusca, into a chimeric scaffoldin engineered to bear a cellulose-binding module and the appropriate matching cohesin modules. The resultant hexavalent designer cellulosome represents the most elaborate artificial enzyme composite yet constructed, and the fully functional complex achieved enhanced levels (up to 1.6-fold) of degradation of untreated wheat straw compared to those of the wild-type free enzymes. The action of these designer cellulosomes on wheat straw was 33 to 42% as efficient as the natural cellulosomes of Clostridium thermocellum. In contrast, the reduction of substrate complexity by chemical or biological pretreatment of the substrate removed the advantage of the designer cellulosomes, as the free enzymes displayed higher levels of activity, indicating that enzyme proximity between these selected enzymes was less significant on pretreated substrates. Pretreatment of the substrate caused an increase in activity for all the systems, and the native cellulosome completely converted the substrate into soluble saccharides. IMPORTANCE Cellulosic biomass is a potential alternative resource which could satisfy future demands of transportation fuel. However, overcoming the natural lignocellulose recalcitrance remains challenging. Current research and development efforts have concentrated on the efficient cellulose-degrading strategies of cellulosome-producing anaerobic bacteria. Cellulosomes are multienzyme complexes capable of converting the plant cell wall polysaccharides into soluble sugar products en route to biofuels as an alternative to fossil fuels. Using a designer cellulosome approach, we have constructed the largest form of homogeneous artificial cellulosomes reported to date, which bear a total of six different cellulases and xylanases from the highly cellulolytic bacterium Thermobifida fusca. These designer cellulosomes were comparable in size to natural cellulosomes and displayed enhanced synergistic activities compared to their free wild-type enzyme counterparts. Future efforts should be invested to improve these processes to approach or surpass the efficiency of natural cellulosomes for cost-effective production of biofuels.

Concepts: Bacteria, Enzyme, Glucose, Cell wall, Polysaccharide, Lignin, Cellulose, Cellulosic ethanol


BACKGROUND: The inherent recalcitrance of lignocellulosic biomass is one of the major economic hurdles for the production of fuels and chemicals from biomass. Additionally, lignin is recognized as having a negative impact on enzymatic hydrolysis of biomass, and as a result much interest has been placed on modifying the lignin pathway to improve bioconversion of lignocellulosic feedstocks. RESULTS: Down-regulation of the caffeic acid 3-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene in the lignin pathway yielded switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) that was more susceptible to bioconversion after dilute acid pretreatment. Here we examined the response of these plant lines to milder pretreatment conditions with yeast-based simultaneous saccharification and fermentation and a consolidated bioprocessing approach using Clostridium thermocellum, Caldicellulosiruptor bescii and Caldicellulosiruptor obsidiansis. Unlike the S. cerevisiae SSF conversions, fermentations of pretreated transgenic switchgrass with C. thermocellum showed an apparent inhibition of fermentation not observed in the wild-type switchgrass. This inhibition can be eliminated by hot water extraction of the pretreated biomass, which resulted in superior conversion yield with transgenic versus wild-type switchgrass for C. thermocellum, exceeding the yeast-based SSF yield. Further fermentation evaluation of the transgenic switchgrass indicated differential inhibition for the Caldicellulosiruptor sp. strains, which could not be rectified by additional processing conditions. Gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC-MS) metabolite profiling was used to examine the fermentation broth to elucidate the relative abundance of lignin derived aromatic compounds. The types and abundance of fermentation-derived-lignin constituents varied between C. thermocellum and each of the Caldicellulosiruptor sp. strains. CONCLUSIONS: The down-regulation of the COMT gene improves the bioconversion of switchgrass relative to the wild-type regardless of the pretreatment condition or fermentation microorganism. However, bacterial fermentations demonstrated strain-dependent sensitivity to the COMT transgenic biomass, likely due to additional soluble lignin pathway-derived constituents resulting from the COMT gene disruption. Removal of these inhibitory constituents permitted completion of fermentation by C. thermocellum, but not by the Caldicellulosiruptor sp. strains. The reason for this difference in performance is currently unknown.

Concepts: DNA, Bacteria, Molecular biology, Enzyme, Yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Cellulosic ethanol, Panicum


BACKGROUND: During cellulosic ethanol production, cellulose hydrolysis is achieved by synergetic action of cellulase enzyme complex consisting of multiple enzymes with different mode of actions. Enzymatic hydrolysis of cellulose is one of the bottlenecks in the commercialization of the process due to low hydrolysis rates and high cost of enzymes. A robust hydrolysis model that can predict hydrolysis profile under various scenarios can act as an important forecasting tool to improve the hydrolysis process. However, multiple factors affecting hydrolysis: cellulose structure and complex enzyme-substrate interactions during hydrolysis make it diffucult to develop mathematical kinetic models that can simulate hydrolysis in presence of multiple enzymes with high fidelity. In this study, a comprehensive hydrolysis model based on stochastic molecular modeling approch in which each hydrolysis event is translated into a discrete event is presented. The model captures the structural features of cellulose, enzyme properties (mode of actions, synergism, inhibition), and most importantly dynamic morphological changes in the substrate that directly affect the enzyme-substrate interactions during hydrolysis. RESULTS: Cellulose was modeled as a group of microfibrils consisting of elementary fibrils bundles, where each elementary fibril was represented as a three dimensional matrix of glucose molecules. Hydrolysis of cellulose was simulated based on Monte Carlo simulation technique. Cellulose hydrolysis results predicted by model simulations agree well with the experimental data from literature. Coefficients of determination for model predictions and experimental values were in the range of 0.75 to 0.96 for Avicel hydrolysis by CBH I action. Model was able to simulate the synergistic action of multiple enzymes during hydrolysis. The model simulations captured the important experimental observations: effect of structural properties, enzyme inhibition and enzyme loadings on the hydrolysis and degree of synergism among enzymes. CONCLUSIONS: The model was effective in capturing the dynamic behavior of cellulose hydrolysis during action of individual as well as multiple cellulases. Simulations were in qualitative and quantitative agreement with experimental data. Several experimentally observed phenomena were simulated without the need for any additional assumptions or parameter changes and confirmed the validity of using the stochastic molecular modeling approach to quantitatively and qualitatively describe the cellulose hydrolysis.

Concepts: Enzyme, Glucose, Starch, Simulation, Cellulose, Hydrolysis, Cellulosic ethanol, Cellulase


The term cellulase refers to any component of the enzymatic complex produced by some fungi, bacteria and protozoans which act serially or synergistically to catalyze the cleavage of cellulosic materials. Cellulases have been widely used in many industrial applications ranging from food industry to the production of second generation ethanol. In an effort to develop new strategies to minimize the costs of enzyme production we describe the development of a Pichia pastoris strain able to coproduce two different cellulases. For that purpose the eglII (endoglucanase II) and cbhII (cellobiohydrolase II) genes from Trichoderma reesei were fused in-frame separated by the self-processing 2A peptide sequence from the foot-and-mouth disease virus. The protein fusion construct was placed under the control of the strong inducible AOX1 promoter. Analysis of culture supernatants from methanol-induced yeast transformants showed that the protein fusion was effectively processed. Enzymatic assay showed that the processed enzymes were fully functional with the same catalytic properties of the individual enzymes produced separately. Furthermore, when combined both enzymes acted synergistically on filter paper to produce cellobiose as the main end-product. Based on these results we propose that P. pastoris should be considered as an alternative platform for the production of cellulases at competitive costs.

Concepts: Protein, Metabolism, Enzyme, Catalysis, Cellulose, Hydrolysis, Enzyme assay, Cellulosic ethanol


Feedstock recalcitrance is the most important barrier impeding cost-effective production of cellulosic biofuels. Pioneer commercial cellulosic ethanol facilities employ thermochemical pretreatment and addition of fungal cellulase, reflecting the main research emphasis in the field. However, it has been suggested that it may be possible to process cellulosic biomass without thermochemical pretreatment using thermophilic, cellulolytic bacteria. To further explore this idea, we examine the ability of various biocatalysts to solubilize autoclaved but otherwise unpretreated cellulosic biomass under controlled but not industrial conditions.

Concepts: Enzyme, Glucose, Fungus, Ethanol, Starch, Cellulose, Biofuel, Cellulosic ethanol


One of the major challenges in the bioconversion of lignocellulosic biomass into liquid biofuels includes the search for a glucose tolerant beta-gulucosidase. Beta-glucosidase is the key enzyme component present in cellulase and completes the final step during cellulose hydrolysis by converting the cellobiose to glucose. This reaction is always under control as it gets inhibited by its product glucose. It is a major bottleneck in the efficient biomass conversion by cellulase. To circumvent this problem several strategies have been adopted which we have discussed in the article along with its production strategies and general properties. It plays a very significant role in bioethanol production from biomass through enzymatic route. Hence several amendments took place in the commercial preparation of cellulase for biomass hydrolysis, which contains higher and improved beta-glucosidase for efficient biomass conversion. This article presents beta-glucosidase as the key component for bioethanol from biomass through enzymatic route.

Concepts: Enzyme, Glucose, Starch, Cellulose, Hydrolysis, Biofuel, Cellulosic ethanol, Ethanol fuel


Lignocellulose represents a sustainable source of carbon for transformation into biofuels. Effective biomass to sugar conversion strategies are needed to lower processing cost without degradation of polysaccharides. Since ionic liquids (ILs) are excellent solvents for pretreatment/dissolution of biomass, IL pretreatment was carried out on agave bagasse (AGB-byproduct of tequila industry) and digestibility and sugar yield was compared with that obtained with switchgrass (SWG). The IL pretreatment was conducted using ([C2mim][OAc]) at 120 and 160°C for 3h and 15% biomass loading. While pretreatment using [C2mim][OAc] was very effective in improving the digestibility of both feedstocks, IL pretreatment at 160°C resulted in higher delignification for AGB (45.5%) than for SWG (38.4%) when compared to 120°C (AGB-16.6%, SWG-8.2%), formation of a highly amorphous cellulose structure and a significant enhancement of enzyme kinetics. These results highlight the potential of AGB as a biofuel feedstock that can produce high sugar yields with IL pretreatment.

Concepts: Glucose, Ethanol, Starch, Solvent, Ionic liquid, Cellulose, Biofuel, Cellulosic ethanol


An effective alkali pretreatment which affects the structural properties of cellulose (corn cob) has been studied. The pretreatment of corn cob was carried out with different combinations of alkali at varying temperatures. The most effective pretreatment of corn cob was achieved with 1 % alkali at 50 °C in 4 h. The crystallinity index (CrI) and specific surface area (SSA) of untreated corn cob was 39 % and 0.52 m(2)/g wherein after alkali pretreatment CrI decreased to 15 % and SSA increased to 3.32 m(2)/g. The fungal organism was identified as Penicillium pinophilum on the basis of ITS sequence. At 5 % substrate concentration using a complete cellulase from Penicillium pinophilum the hydrolysis of untreated corn cob with 5, 10 and 20 FPU/g enzyme loadings were 11 %, 13 % and 16 %, whereas after alkali treatment the hydrolysis increased to 78 %, 90 % and 100 %, respectively. Further hydrolytic potential of commercial cellulases viz. Accellerase™ 1,000, Palkofeel-30 and Palkocel-40 were investigated under similar conditions.

Concepts: Enzyme, Fungus, Starch, Cellulose, Hydrolysis, Cellulosic ethanol, Specific surface area, Cellulase


BACKGROUND: In the present study, three ionic liquids, namely 1-butyl-3-methylimidazolium chloride ([BMIM]Cl), 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium acetate ([EMIM]OAc), and 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium diethyl phosphate ([EMIM]DEP), were used to partially dissolve rice husk, after which the cellulose were regenerated by the addition of water. The aim of the investigation is to examine the implications of the ionic liquid pretreatments on rice husk composition and structure. RESULTS: From the attenuated total reflectance Fourier transform-infrared (ATR FT-IR) spectroscopy, X-ray diffraction (XRD) and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) results, the regenerated cellulose were more amorphous, less crystalline, and possessed higher structural disruption compared with untreated rice husk. The major component of regenerated cellulose from [BMIM]Cl and [EMIM]DEP pretreatments was cellulose-rich material, while cellulose regenerated from [EMIM]OAc was a matrix of cellulose and lignin. Cellulose regenerated from ionic pretreatments could be saccharified via enzymatic hydrolysis, and resulted in relatively high reducing sugars yields, whereas enzymatic hydrolysis of untreated rice husk did not yield reducing sugars. Rice husk residues generated from the ionic liquid pretreatments had similar chemical composition and amorphousity to that of untreated rice husk, but with varying extent of surface disruption and swelling. CONCLUSIONS: The structural architecture of the regenerated cellulose and rice husk residues showed that they could be used for subsequent fermentation or derivation of cellulosic compounds. Therefore, ionic liquid pretreatment is an alternative in the pretreatment of lignocellulosic biomass in addition to the conventional chemical pretreatments.

Concepts: Starch, Scientific techniques, Ionic liquid, Cellulose, Scanning electron microscope, Cellulosic ethanol, 1-Butyl-3-methylimidazolium hexafluorophosphate, Ionic liquids


Lignin poses a major challenge in the processing of plant biomass for agro-industrial applications. For bioengineering purposes, there is a pressing interest in identifying and characterizing the enzymes responsible for the biosynthesis of lignin. Hydroxycinnamoyl-CoA:shikimate hydroxycinnamoyl transferase (HCT, EC is a key metabolic entry point for the synthesis of the most important lignin monomers: coniferyl and sinapyl alcohols. In this study, we investigated the substrate promiscuity of HCT from a bryophyte (Physcomitrella) and from five representatives of vascular plants (Arabidopsis, poplar, switchgrass, pine, and Selaginella) using a yeast expression system. We demonstrate for these HCTs a conserved capacity to acylate with p-coumaroyl-CoA several phenolic compounds in addition to the canonical acceptor shikimate normally used during lignin biosynthesis. Using either recombinant HCT from switchgrass (PvHCT2a) or an Arabidopsis protein stem extract, we show evidence of the inhibitory effect of these phenolics on the synthesis of p-coumaroyl shikimate in vitro, which presumably occurs via a mechanism of competitive inhibition. Structural study of PvHCT2a confirmed the binding of a non-canonical acceptor in a similar manner as shikimate in the active site of the enzyme. Finally, we exploited in Arabidopsis the substrate flexibility of HCT to reduce lignin content and improve biomass saccharification by engineering transgenic lines that overproduce one of the HCT non-canonical acceptors. Our results demonstrate conservation of HCT substrate promiscuity and provide support for a new strategy for lignin reduction in the effort to improve the quality of plant biomass for forage and cellulosic biofuels.

Concepts: Alcohol, Metabolism, Enzyme, Plant, Enzyme inhibitor, Lignin, Biofuel, Cellulosic ethanol