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Category Archives: Biotechnology

Arsenal of plant cell wall degrading enzymes reflects host preference among plant pathogenic fungi

Background:
Discovery and development of novel plant cell wall degrading enzymes is a key step towards more efficient depolymerization of polysaccharides to fermentable sugars for production of liquid transportation biofuels and other bioproducts. The industrial fungus Trichoderma reesei is known to be highly cellulolytic and is a major industrial microbial source for commercial cellulases, xylanases, and other cell wall degrading enzymes. However, enzyme-prospecting research continues to identify opportunities to enhance the activity of T. reesei enzyme preparations by supplementing with enzymatic diversity from other microbes. The goal of this study was to evaluate the enzymatic potential of a broad range of plant pathogenic and non-pathogenic fungi for their ability to degrade plant biomass and isolated polysaccharides.
Results:
Large-scale screening identified a range of hydrolytic activities among 348 unique isolates representing 156 species of plant pathogenic and non-pathogenic fungi. Hierarchical clustering was used to identify groups of species with similar hydrolytic profiles. Among moderately and highly active species, plant pathogenic species were more active than non-pathogens on six of eight substrates tested, with no significant difference seen on the other two substrates. Among pathogenic fungi, greater hydrolysis was seen when tested on biomass and hemicellulose derived from their host plants (commelinoid monocot or dicot). Although T. reesei has a hydrolytic profile that is highly active on cellulose and pretreated biomass, it was less active than some natural isolates of fungi when tested on xylans and untreated biomass.
Conclusions:
Several highly active isolates of plant pathogenic fungi were identified, particularly when tested on xylans and untreated biomass. There were statistically significant preferences for biomass type reflecting the monocot or dicot host preference of the pathogen tested. These highly active fungi are promising targets for further identification and characterization of novel cell wall degrading enzymes for industrial applications.

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Cellulose accessibility limits the effectiveness of minimum cellulase loading on the efficient hydrolysis of pretreated lignocellulosic substrates

A range of lignocellulosic feedstocks (including agricultural, softwood and hardwood substrates) were pretreated with either sulfur dioxide-catalyzed steam or an ethanol organosolv procedure to try to establish a reliable assessment of the factors governing the minimum protein loading that could be used to achieve efficient hydrolysis. A statistical design approach was first used to define what might constitute the minimum protein loading (cellulases and beta-glucosidase) that could be used to achieve efficient saccharification (defined as at least 70% glucan conversion) of the pretreated substrates after 72 hours of hydrolysis. The likely substrate factors that limit cellulose availability/accessibility were assessed, and then compared with the optimized minimum amounts of protein used to obtain effective hydrolysis. The optimized minimum protein loadings to achieve efficient hydrolysis of seven pretreated substrates ranged between 18 and 63 mg protein per gram of glucan. Within the similarly pretreated group of lignocellulosic feedstocks, the agricultural residues (corn stover and corn fiber) required significantly lower protein loadings to achieve efficient hydrolysis than did the pretreated woody biomass (poplar, douglas fir and lodgepole pine). Regardless of the substantial differences in the source, structure and chemical composition of the feedstocks, and the difference in the pretreatment technology used, the protein loading required to achieve efficient hydrolysis of lignocellulosic substrates was strongly dependent on the accessibility of the cellulosic component of each of the substrates. We found that cellulose-rich substrates with highly accessible cellulose, as assessed by the Simons' stain method, required a lower protein loading per gram of glucan to obtain efficient hydrolysis compared with substrates containing less accessible cellulose. These results suggest that the rate-limiting step during hydrolysis is not the catalytic cleavage of the cellulose chains per se, but rather the limited accessibility of the enzymes to the cellulose chains due to the physical structure of the cellulosic substrate.

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Thermostable endoglucanases in the liquefaction of hydrothermally pretreated wheat straw

Background:
Thermostable enzymes have several benefits in lignocellulose processing. In particular, they potentially allow the use of increased substrate concentrations (because the substrate viscosity decreases as the temperature increases), resulting in improved product yields and reduced capital and processing costs. A short pre-hydrolysis step at an elevated temperature using thermostable enzymes aimed at rapid liquefaction of the feedstock is seen as an attractive way to overcome the technical problems (such as poor mixing and mass transfer properties) connected with high initial solid loadings in the lignocellulose to ethanol process.
Results:
The capability of novel thermostable enzymes to reduce the viscosity of high-solid biomass suspensions using a real-time viscometric measurement method was investigated. Heterologously expressed enzymes from various thermophilic organisms were compared for their ability to liquefy the lignocellulosic substrate, hydrothermally pretreated wheat straw. Once the best enzymes were identified, the optimal temperatures for these enzymes to decrease substrate viscosity were compared. The combined hydrolytic properties of the thermostable preparations were tested in hydrolysis experiments. The studied mixtures were primarily designed to have good liquefaction potential, and therefore contained an enhanced proportion of the key liquefying enzyme, EGII/Cel5A.
Conclusions:
Endoglucanases were shown to have a superior ability to rapidly reduce the viscosity of the 15% (w/w; dry matter) hydrothermally pretreated wheat straw. Based on temperature profiling studies, Thermoascus aurantiacus EGII/Cel5A was the most promising enzyme for biomass liquefaction. Even though they were not optimized for saccharification, many of the thermostable enzyme mixtures had superior hydrolytic properties compared with the commercial reference enzymes at 55 degreesC.

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Lignin monomer composition affects Arabidopsis cell-wall degradability after liquid hot water pretreatment

Background:
Lignin is embedded in the plant cell wall matrix, and impedes the enzymatic saccharification of lignocellulosic feedstocks. To investigate whether enzymatic digestibility of cell wall materials can be improved by altering the relative abundance of the two major lignin monomers, guaiacyl (G) and syringyl (S) subunits, we compared the degradability of cell wall material from wild-type Arabidopsis thaliana with a mutant line and a genetically modified line, the lignins of which are enriched in G and S subunits, respectively.
Results:
Arabidopsis tissue containing G- and S-rich lignins had the same saccharification performance as the wild type when subjected to enzyme hydrolysis without pretreatment. After a 24-hour incubation period, less than 30% of the total glucan was hydrolyzed. By contrast, when liquid hot water (LHW) pretreatment was included before enzyme hydrolysis, the S-lignin-rich tissue gave a much higher glucose yield than either the wild-type or G-lignin-rich tissue. Applying a hot-water washing step after the pretreatment did not lead to a further increase in final glucose yield, but the initial hydrolytic rate was doubled.
Conclusions:
Our analyses using the model plant A. thaliana revealed that lignin composition affects the enzymatic digestibility of LHW pretreated plant material. Pretreatment is more effective in enhancing the saccharification of A. thaliana cell walls that contain S-rich lignin. Increasing lignin S monomer content through genetic engineering may be a promising approach to increase the efficiency and reduce the cost of biomass to biofuel conversion.

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Biodetoxification of toxins generated from lignocellulose pretreatment using a newly isolated fungus, Amorphotheca resinae ZN1, and the consequent ethanol fermentation

Background:
Degradation of the toxic compounds generated in the harsh pretreatment of lignocellulose is an inevitable step in reducing the toxin level for conducting practical enzymatic hydrolysis and ethanol fermentation processes. Various detoxification methods have been tried and many negative outcomes were found using these methods, such as the massive freshwater usage and wastewater generation, loss of the fine lignocellulose particles and fermentative sugars and incomplete removal of inhibitors. An alternate method, biodetoxification, which degrades the toxins as part of their normal metabolism, was considered a promising option for the removal of toxins without causing the above problems.
Results:
A kerosene fungus strain, Amorphotheca resinae ZN1, was isolated from the microbial community growing on the pretreated corn stover material. The degradation of the toxins as well as the lignocelluloses-derived sugars was characterized in different ways, and the results show that A. resinae ZN1 utilized each of these toxins and sugars as the sole carbon sources efficiently and grew quickly on the toxins. It was found that the solid-state culture of A. resinae ZN1 on various pretreated lignocellulose feedstocks such as corn stover, wheat straw, rice straw, cotton stalk and rape straw degraded all kinds of toxins quickly and efficiently. The consequent simultaneous saccharification and ethanol fermentation was performed at the 30% (wt/wt) solid loading of the detoxified lignocellulosic feedstocks without a sterilization step, and the ethanol titer in the fermentation broth reached above 40 g/L using food crop residues as feedstocks.
Conclusions:
The advantages of the present biodetoxification by A. resinae ZN1 over the known detoxification methods include zero energy input, zero wastewater generation, complete toxin degradation, processing on solid pretreated material, no need for sterilization and a wide lignocellulose feedstock spectrum. These advantages make it possible for industrial applications with fast and efficient biodetoxification to remove toxins generated during intensive lignocellulose pretreatment.

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Automated saccharification assay for determination of digestibility in plant materials

Background:
Cell wall resistance represents the main barrier for the production of second generation biofuels. The deconstruction of lignocellulose can provide sugars for the production of fuels or other industrial products through fermentation. Understanding the biochemical basis of the recalcitrance of cell walls to digestion will allow development of more effective and cost efficient ways to produce sugars from biomass. One approach is to identify plant genes that play a role in biomass recalcitrance, using association genetics. Such an approach requires a robust and reliable high throughput (HT) assay for biomass digestibility, which can be used to screen the large numbers of samples involved in such studies.
Results:
We developed a HT saccharification assay based on a robotic platform that can carry out in a 96-well plate format the enzymatic digestion and quantification of the released sugars. The handling of the biomass powder for weighing and formatting into 96 wells is performed by a robotic station, where the plant material is ground, delivered to the desired well in the plates and weighed with a precision of 0.1 mg. Once the plates are loaded, an automated liquid handling platform delivers an optional mild pretreatment (< 100°C) followed by enzymatic hydrolysis of the biomass. Aliquots from the hydrolysis are then analyzed for the release of reducing sugar equivalents. The same platform can be used for the comparative evaluation of different enzymes and enzyme cocktails. The sensitivity and reliability of the platform was evaluated by measuring the saccharification of stems from lignin modified tobacco plants, and the results of automated and manual analyses compared.
Conclusions:
The automated assay systems are sensitive, robust and reliable. The system can reliably detect differences in the saccharification of plant tissues, and is able to process large number of samples with a minimum amount of human intervention. The automated system uncovered significant increases in the digestibility of certain lignin modified lines in a manner compatible with known effects of lignin modification on cell wall properties. We conclude that this automated assay platform is of sufficient sensitivity and reliability to undertake the screening of the large populations of plants necessary for mutant identification and genetic association studies.

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