WALNUT CREEK, Calif.An international team led by scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Joint Genome Institute (JGI) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) have translated the genetic code that explains the complex biochemical machinery making brown-rot fungi uniquely destructive to wood. The same processes that provide easier access to the energy-rich sugar molecules bound up in the plant's tenacious architecture are leading to innovations for the biofuels industry. The research, conducted by more than 50 authors, is reported in the February 4 online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Among the challenges to more cost-effective production of biofuels from cellulosic biomassthe fibrous material of whole plantsis to find effective means to work around the polymer lignin, the scaffolding that endows the plant's architecture with rigidity and protection from pests. By doing so, the organic compound cellulosethe long chain of glucose (sugar) units can be unbound, broken down, fermented, and distilled into liquid transportation fuel. This is where the destructive capabilities of rot come in.
"The microbial world represents a little explored yet bountiful resource for enzymes that can play a central role in the deconstruction of plant biomassan early step in biofuel production," said Eddy Rubin, Director of the DOE JGI, where the genome sequencing was conducted. "The brown-rot Postia placenta's genome offers us a detailed inventory of the biomass-degrading enzymes that this and other fungi possess."
Rubin pointed to a complementary strategy that DOE and its Bioenergy Research Centers are pursuing of targeting a new generation of plantsperennial grasses and fast-growing trees such as poplarbred specifically as biomass for biofuels. Among the desirable characteristics of biofuel "feedstocks" is the ease by which they can b
|Contact: David Gilbert|
DOE/Joint Genome Institute