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Verenium Explores Bacterial Genes Inside Termite Guts to Understand How Wood is Broken Down and Converted to Energy
Date:11/21/2007

n the November 22 issue of the journal Nature, the international journal of science, Volume 450, issue 7169, pp. 560-565.

About the Study

The work was funded through DoE's Community Sequencing program. The principal investigator was Dr. Jared Leadbetter, Associate Professor of Environmental Microbiology at CalTech. Other partners in the research included JGI, Verenium and INBio, the National Biodiversity Institute of Costa Rica. Together, the team sequenced and analyzed more than 80,000 genes encoded by many of the termites' hindgut bacteria species, including about 1,000 cellulase/xylanase genes.

In partnership with INBio, Verenium created an environmental library of DNA collected from the wood-feeding "higher" termite species, Nasutitermes, found in the rainforest of Costa Rica. The DNA was then sent to JGI for sequencing.

"The degradation of wood components, such as cellulose and xylan, requires a battery of enzymes, and termites are extremely successful in breaking down wood, so they're a rich potential source of biochemical catalysts for converting wood into simple sugars and therefore biofuels," Dr. Hazlewood said.

"Prior to this study, only one gene had been connected to the termite's rare ability to digest and nourish itself with wood, a substance that is energy rich but difficult to break down," Dr. Leadbetter noted. "The scientific community long suspected that the bacterial species found in a 'higher' termites' hindgut might be involved in this process and results of this study from the gut community of the Nasutitermes termite demonstrated that these suspicions are correct."

Based on these results, Verenium plans to utilize its advanced gene technologies and high-throughput screening capabilities to evaluate the activity of novel cellulases and hemicellulases encoded in this large collection of novel genes in order to attempt to identify enzyme combinations that can be exploited for converting biomass feedstocks
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