Scientists are working hard to develop the tools and find the organisms to break down the complex structure of plant cellulose into its component sugars the key step toward fermentation of those sugars into usable biofuel. This process needs to be simple and economically efficient before cellulosic biofuels can compete with fossil fuels for transportation energy use.
As with any exploration of systems that involve largely unknown processes, a mechanistic model can be an important first step in improved understanding. Researchers at the Energy Biosciences Institute's (EBI) laboratories on the University of California, Berkeley, campus have improved that step, bringing science closer than ever before to predicting the deconstruction activity of enzymes towards cellulose.
In a paper recently accepted by the journal Biotechnology and Bioengineering, four EBI scientists at UC Berkeley chemical engineering faculty members Doug Clark and Harvey Blanch, postdoctoral researcher Seth Levine and graduate student Jerome Fox detail their analysis that led to the most specific model to date of the enzymatic hydrolysis of cellulose.
"It's a first step in being able to have a detailed picture of what happens between cellulases (enzyme mixtures with complementary activities) and the substrate (cellulose)," said lead author Levine. Through this better understanding of the breakdown mechanisms, he said, more directed and rational approaches can be taken to engineer effective enzymes and improve the overall process of hydrolysis.
Much of the action happens at the surface of a substance like cellulose, the fibrous polysaccharide in the plant cell wall composed of hydrogen-bonded chains of the sugar glucose. Levine likens the surface to a "black box," where multiple shapes and unknown features of particles add to the complicated nature of the reactions there. Previous models relied on simple, sometimes overly broad assumptions and expla
|Contact: Ron Kolb|
University of California - Berkeley