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Breaking biomass better
Date:7/12/2010

One of the challenges in making cellulosic biofuels commercially viable is to cost-effectively deconstruct plant material to liberate fermentable energy-rich sugars. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is funding several projects focused on identifying enzymes in organisms that optimally degrade cellulosic feedstocks. One such source are fungi, which break down dead wood and leaf litter in forests; in fact, some pest management companies consider wood rot more destructive for homes than termites.

The DOE Joint Genome Institute (JGI) previously sequenced and published the genomes of two wood-decaying fungi. Now a team of researchers led by scientists from the DOE JGI and the University of Utrecht announce the analysis of a third such genome in a study published online July 11 in Nature Biotechnology (http://bit.ly/cjkaxO). All told, DOE JGI has sequenced and annotated 40 fungal genomes, and 40 more are currently in the works.

"When we go into a forest we don't see layers of dead branches because wood decay fungi take care of them," said Igor Grigoriev, head of the DOE JGI's Fungal Genomics Program and a senior author on the study. "So when we think about bioenergy and degrading biomass and converting that into biofuel, we would like to learn the most efficient ways of doing that from fungi, which have invented many ways of doing that in nature. Schizophyllum commune is the second white rot fungus and third wood degrader we've sequenced. The DOE JGI sequenced the first white rot fungal genome Phanerochaete chrysosporium in 2004. Then last year we sequenced the first brown rot fungal genome Postia placenta." Postia was found to utilize a unique arsenal of small oxidizing agents that blast through plant cell walls to decompose cellulose into simple sugars.

Found on every continent except Antarctica, S. commune is characteristic of other white rot fungi. S. commune breaks down cellulose a
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Contact: David Gilbert
degilbert@lbl.gov
925-296-5643
DOE/Joint Genome Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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