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Crafting a better enzyme cocktail to turn plants into fuel faster
Date:11/3/2013

NNL team. "It takes a series of steps to do that, and the cost has to come down if these fuels are to compete seriously with traditional hydrocarbon-based fuels."

T. reesei chews through materials naturally, cutting through the chemical "wrapping" much like a person with scissors cuts through a tightly wrapped ribbon around a gift, freeing the inner contents for enjoyment. The fungus actually makes dozens of cutting enzymes, each of which attacks the wrapping differently. Chemists like Wright are trying to combine and improve upon the best ones to create a potent chemical cocktail, a mix of enzymes that accomplishes the task super efficiently. That would bring down the cost of producing biofuels.

Wright's study focused on a subset of the fungus's collection of cutting tools, on enzymes known as glycoside hydrolases. It's their job to break down complex sugars into simple sugars, a key step in the fuel production process.

To assess the effectiveness of mixtures of these enzymes, scientists must either measure the overall performance of the mixture, or they must test the component enzymes one at a time to see how each reacts to different conditions like temperature, pressure and pH.

Wright's team developed a way to measure the activity of each of the ingredients simultaneously, as well as the mixture overall. Instead of needing to run a series of experiments, each focusing on a separate enzyme, the team runs one experiment and tracks precisely how each of dozens of enzymes reacts to changing conditions.

A series of experiments detailing the activity of 30 enzymes, for instance, now might be accomplished in a day or two with the new technology, compared to several months using today's commonplace methods, the scientists say.

The key to the work is a chemical probe the team created to monitor the activity of many enzymes at once. The heart of the system, known as activity-based protein profiling, is a chemical
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Contact: Tom Rickey
tom.rickey@pnnl.gov
509-375-3732
DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert  

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