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How now, inside the cow: Nearly 30,000 novel enzymes for biofuel production improvements
Date:1/27/2011

nutrients, the rich energy source that enables them and the cow to thrive."

Bovines are thought to have first appeared on the landscape millions of years ago and were domesticated by humans about 10,000 years ago. Rumen microbes evolved to produce molecular machines in the form of enzymes able to efficiently deconstruct plant cell wall polysaccharides such as cellulose and hemicellulose into their constituent small sugar molecules. Another way of looking at it is that in exchange for housing in the cow rumen, these microbes pay rent by efficiently converting fiber that the cow cannot utilize into small sugar molecules that serve as substrates for fermentation into end-products that provide energy for the cow. This study has enabled the JGI investigators and collaborators to mine, at a scale thousands of fold greater than in any prior work, the enzymatic capabilities encoded in the genomes of previously uncharacterized rumen microbes. This has deepened our understanding of nearly 30,000 genes generating enzymes that may possess powerful capabilities for degrading biomass into simple sugars, the essential first step in cellulosic biofuel production.

"Industry is seeking better ways to break down biomass to use as the starting material for a new generation of renewable biofuels," said JGI Director and project lead Eddy Rubin. "Together with our collaborators, we are examining the molecular machinery used by microbes in the cow to break down plant material."

Only about one percent of the planet's microbial species can be readily grown in the laboratory; the vast majorityin the soil, water, and residing in the other larger life forms such as in cowscannot be cultured in a lab. "Metagenomic" studies such as this provide an alternative method of analysis.

Rubin's postdoctoral fellows Matthias Hess and Alex Sczyrba used one of the most promising large-scale bioenergy crops switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) and let the cows' micro
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Contact: David Gilbert
degilbert@lbl.gov
925-296-5643
DOE/Joint Genome Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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How now, inside the cow: Nearly 30,000 novel enzymes for biofuel production improvements
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