[NEWS] Enzyme Shows Promise for Efficiently Converting Plants to Biofuels
– January 24, 2017, Phys.org
To make biofuels, tiny microbes can be used to break down plant cells. As part of that digestive process, specialized enzymes break down cellulose—a major molecule that makes plant cell walls rigid. Scientists showed that an enzyme, from the bacterial glycoside hydrolase family 12, plays an unexpectedly important role in breaking down a hard-to-degrade crystalline form of cellulose. Surprisingly, the enzyme breaks apart the cellulose via a random mechanism unlike other hydrolases.
Breaking down cellulose is a major challenge in developing more efficient strategies for converting plant biomass to fuels and chemicals. The discovery of a specialized enzyme that is highly effective at breaking down rigid plant cell wall components could be harnessed to solve this challenge.
Microbes such as fungi and bacteria produce enzymes, called glycoside hydrolases, to acquire nutrients through the degradation of cellulose—carbohydrates that make up plant cell walls. Some of these enzymes can break down the rigid, crystalline form of cellulose and, therefore, could be especially effective at converting tough plant biomass to fuels and chemicals. However, scientists have largely studied these enzymes in pure cultures of microorganisms, even though microorganisms break down cellulose as communities in the environment.