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

cific category of enzymes called carbohydrate-active enzymes (CAZymes) that can break down plant polysaccharides (e.g. cellulose) into small sugars. Hess identified the most promising candidates, tested a subset of 90 candidate genes for functionality and found that more than 50 percent of the tested candidates had cellulose-degrading activity with almost 20 percent able to break down the "real-world" biofuel crop switchgrass. This made it clear to the team that a significant faction of the 30,000 genes identified are indeed active against plant material and would be a treasure trove of novel enzymes for biofuel researchers. Hess said that the discovery of these novel enzymes from this one study significantly increased the number of enzymes believed to act on carbohydrates by nearly a third compared to numerous previous studies carried out over decades.

Besides the identification of genes encoding enzymes that might play a major role in future processes for the industrial production of lignocellulosic biofuel, Hess and Sczyrba wanted to assemble not only genes but the entire genomes of organisms involved in biomass breakdown from the rumen. Using various computational puzzle-solving approaches, they were able to build 15 genomes for the rumen microbes, none of which matched anything that had previously been described.

To confirm their computational results the team turned to another way of examining the genomes of microbes that also did not require a culturing step: single cell genomics involving the study of the genome of a single uncultured microbial cell. They were able to isolate a single rumen microbe using a cell sorter, and without having it grow, they generated the genome of this uncultured microbe using single cell sequencing technology. When the DNA sequences derived from the single genome were mapped to the 15 computationally assembled genomes, the researchers found that more than 98 percent of the data matched to one single genome
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Contact: David Gilbert
degilbert@lbl.gov
925-296-5643
DOE/Joint Genome Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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