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Logo of biotbiofuelBioMed CentralBiomed Central Web Sitesearchsubmit a manuscriptregisterthis articleBiotechnology for Biofuels
Biotechnol Biofuels. 2012; 5: 43.
Published online 2012 June 15. doi:  10.1186/1754-6834-5-43
PMCID: PMC3462704

Ethanol and anaerobic conditions reversibly inhibit commercial cellulase activity in thermophilic simultaneous saccharification and fermentation (tSSF)



A previously developed mathematical model of low solids thermophilic simultaneous saccharification and fermentation (tSSF) with Avicel was unable to predict performance at high solids using a commercial cellulase preparation (Spezyme CP) and the high ethanol yield Thermoanaerobacterium saccharolyticum strain ALK2. The observed hydrolysis proceeded more slowly than predicted at solids concentrations greater than 50 g/L Avicel. Factors responsible for this inaccuracy were investigated in this study.


Ethanol dramatically reduced cellulase activity in tSSF. At an Avicel concentration of 20 g/L, the addition of ethanol decreased conversion at 96 hours, from 75% in the absence of added ethanol down to 32% with the addition of 34 g/L initial ethanol. This decrease is much greater than expected based on hydrolysis inhibition results in the absence of a fermenting organism. The enhanced effects of ethanol were attributed to the reduced, anaerobic conditions of tSSF, which were shown to inhibit cellulase activity relative to hydrolysis under aerobic conditions. Cellulose hydrolysis in anaerobic conditions was roughly 30% slower than in the presence of air. However, this anaerobic inhibition was reversed by exposing the cellulase enzymes to air.


This work demonstrates a previously unrecognized incompatibility of enzymes secreted by an aerobic fungus with the fermentation conditions of an anaerobic bacterium and suggests that enzymes better suited to industrially relevant fermentation conditions would be valuable. The effects observed may be due to inactivation or starvation of oxygen dependent GH61 activity, and manipulation or replacement of this activity may provide an opportunity to improve biomass to fuel process efficiency.

Keywords: Cellulase inactivation, Anaerobic, Reduced environment, tSSF, High solids, GH61

Articles from Biotechnology for Biofuels are provided here courtesy of BioMed Central