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Iowa State researcher studies how enzymes break down cellulose
Date:1/30/2008

chain from a cellulose crystal and feeds it into a tunnel on the main enzyme surface so that it can be chopped up.

Reilly, who cant resist a lesson in biochemistry, likes to explain how enzymes attack and break chemical bonds. Hell display diagrams on his office computer that show the bonds in cellulose molecules. Hell point out where enzymes attack some of those bonds. Hell say the chemical reactions create high-energy transition states that scientists are working hard to understand. And hell get back to the bottom line.

These different enzymes all do the same thing, Reilly said. They all break down bonds between the sugars that make up cellulose.

And, he said, For something thats not alive, enzymes are awfully sophisticated.

Reillys students use a lot of computing power to figure out how enzymes are put together. They routinely work with CyBlue, Iowa States supercomputer capable of 5.7 trillion calculations per second, and Lightning, an Iowa State high-performance computer capable of 1.8 trillion calculations per second.

By adding to the basic understanding of enzymes, Reilly is opening doors for new and better applications of enzymes. Better enzymes, for example, could be the key to making the production of cellulosic ethanol more efficient and more economical.

Theres still a lot for chemical engineers to learn about the specialized proteins.

After all, Reilly said, Nature has tried over and over to find ways to break down cellulose.


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Contact: Peter Reilly
reilly@iastate.edu
515-294-5968
Iowa State University
Source:Eurekalert  

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