The development of advanced biofuels from lignocellulosic biomass will require the use of both efficient pretreatment methods and new biomass-deconstructing enzyme cocktails to generate sugars from lignocellulosic substrates. Certain ionic liquids (ILs) have emerged as a promising class of compounds for biomass pretreatment and have been demonstrated to reduce the recalcitrance of biomass for enzymatic hydrolysis. However, current commercial cellulase cocktails are strongly inhibited by most of the ILs that are effective biomass pretreatment solvents. Fortunately, recent research has shown that IL-tolerant cocktails can be formulated and are functional on lignocellulosic biomass. This study sought to expand the list of known IL-tolerant cellulases to further enable IL-tolerant cocktail development by developing a combined in vitro/in vivo screening pipeline for metagenome-derived genes.
Thirty-seven predicted cellulases derived from a thermophilic switchgrass-adapted microbial community were screened in this study. Eighteen of the twenty-one enzymes that expressed well in E. coli were active in the presence of the IL 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium acetate ([C2mim][OAc]) concentrations of at least 10% (v/v), with several retaining activity in the presence of 40% (v/v), which is currently the highest reported tolerance to [C2mim][OAc] for any cellulase. In addition, the optimum temperatures of the enzymes ranged from 45 to 95°C and the pH optimum ranged from 5.5 to 7.5, indicating these enzymes can be used to construct cellulase cocktails that function under a broad range of temperature, pH and IL concentrations.
This study characterized in detail twenty-one cellulose-degrading enzymes derived from a thermophilic microbial community and found that 70% of them were [C2mim][OAc]-tolerant. A comparison of optimum temperature and [C2mim][OAc]-tolerance demonstrates that a positive correlation exists between these properties for those enzymes with a optimum temperature >70°C, further strengthening the link between thermotolerance and IL-tolerance for lignocelluolytic glycoside hydrolases.
Cellulase; Ionic liquid; Thermophilic; Biofuel
Production of biofuels via enzymatic hydrolysis of complex plant polysaccharides is a subject of intense global interest. Microbial communities are known to express a wide range of enzymes necessary for the saccharification of lignocellulosic feedstocks and serve as a powerful reservoir for enzyme discovery. However, the growth temperature and conditions that yield high cellulase activity vary widely, and the throughput to identify optimal conditions has been limited by the slow handling and conventional analysis. A rapid method that uses small volumes of isolate culture to resolve specific enzyme activity is needed. In this work, a high throughput nanostructure-initiator mass spectrometry (NIMS)-based approach was developed for screening a thermophilic cellulolytic actinomycete, Thermobispora bispora, for β-glucosidase production under various growth conditions. Media that produced high β-glucosidase activity were found to be I/S + glucose or microcrystalline cellulose (MCC), Medium 84 + rolled oats, and M9TE + MCC at 45°C. Supernatants of cell cultures grown in M9TE + 1% MCC cleaved 2.5 times more substrate at 45°C than at all other temperatures. While T. bispora is reported to grow optimally at 60°C in Medium 84 + rolled oats and M9TE + 1% MCC, approximately 40% more conversion was observed at 45°C. This high throughput NIMS approach may provide an important tool in discovery and characterization of enzymes from environmental microbes for industrial and biofuel applications.
NIMS; high throughput; β-glucosidase; enzymatic activity screening; microbial communities
Ionic liquid pretreatment of biomass has been shown to greatly reduce the recalcitrance of lignocellulosic biomass, resulting in improved sugar yields after enzymatic saccharification. However, even under these improved saccharification conditions the cost of enzymes still represents a significant proportion of the total cost of producing sugars and ultimately fuels from lignocellulosic biomass. Much of the high cost of enzymes is due to the low catalytic efficiency and stability of lignocellulolytic enzymes, especially cellulases, under conditions that include high temperatures and the presence of residual pretreatment chemicals, such as acids, organic solvents, bases, or ionic liquids. Improving the efficiency of the saccharification process on ionic liquid pretreated biomass will facilitate reduced enzyme loading and cost. Thermophilic cellulases have been shown to be stable and active in ionic liquids but their activity is typically at lower levels. Cel5A_Tma, a thermophilic endoglucanase from Thermotoga maritima, is highly active on cellulosic substrates and is stable in ionic liquid environments. Here, our motivation was to engineer mutants of Cel5A_Tma with higher activity on 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium acetate ([C2mim][OAc]) pretreated biomass. We developed a robotic platform to screen a random mutagenesis library of Cel5A_Tma. Twelve mutants with 25–42% improvement in specific activity on carboxymethyl cellulose and up to 30% improvement on ionic-liquid pretreated switchgrass were successfully isolated and characterized from a library of twenty thousand variants. Interestingly, most of the mutations in the improved variants are located distally to the active site on the protein surface and are not directly involved with substrate binding.
Ionic liquid (IL) pretreatment is receiving significant attention as a potential process that enables fractionation of lignocellulosic biomass and produces high yields of fermentable sugars suitable for the production of renewable fuels. However, successful optimization and scale up of IL pretreatment involves challenges, such as high solids loading, biomass handling and transfer, washing of pretreated solids and formation of inhibitors, which are not addressed during the development stages at the small scale in a laboratory environment. As a first in the research community, the Joint BioEnergy Institute, in collaboration with the Advanced Biofuels Process Demonstration Unit, a Department of Energy funded facility that supports academic and industrial entities in scaling their novel biofuels enabling technologies, have performed benchmark studies to identify key challenges associated with IL pretreatment using 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium acetate and subsequent enzymatic saccharification beyond bench scale.
Using switchgrass as the model feedstock, we have successfully executed 600-fold, relative to the bench scale (6 L vs 0.01 L), scale-up of IL pretreatment at 15% (w/w) biomass loading. Results show that IL pretreatment at 15% biomass generates a product containing 87.5% of glucan, 42.6% of xylan and only 22.8% of lignin relative to the starting material. The pretreated biomass is efficiently converted into monosaccharides during subsequent enzymatic hydrolysis at 10% loading over a 150-fold scale of operations (1.5 L vs 0.01 L) with 99.8% fermentable sugar conversion. The yield of glucose and xylose in the liquid streams were 94.8% and 62.2%, respectively, and the hydrolysate generated contains high titers of fermentable sugars (62.1 g/L of glucose and 5.4 g/L cellobiose). The overall glucan and xylan balance from pretreatment and saccharification were 95.0% and 77.1%, respectively. Enzymatic inhibition by [C2mim][OAc] at high solids loadings requires further process optimization to obtain higher yields of fermentable sugars.
Results from this initial scale up evaluation indicate that the IL-based conversion technology can be effectively scaled to larger operations and the current study establishes the first scaling parameters for this conversion pathway but several issues must be addressed before a commercially viable technology can be realized, most notably reduction in water consumption and efficient IL recycle.
Scale-up; Pretreatment; Saccharification; Ionic liquid; High solid loading; Viscosity; Inhibition
High-solids incubations were performed to enrich for microbial communities and enzymes that decompose rice straw under mesophilic (35°C) and thermophilic (55°C) conditions. Thermophilic enrichments yielded a community that was 7.5 times more metabolically active on rice straw than mesophilic enrichments. Extracted xylanase and endoglucanse activities were also 2.6 and 13.4 times greater, respectively, for thermophilic enrichments. Metagenome sequencing was performed on enriched communities to determine community composition and mine for genes encoding lignocellulolytic enzymes. Proteobacteria were found to dominate the mesophilic community while Actinobacteria were most abundant in the thermophilic community. Analysis of protein family representation in each metagenome indicated that cellobiohydrolases containing carbohydrate binding module 2 (CBM2) were significantly overrepresented in the thermophilic community. Micromonospora, a member of Actinobacteria, primarily housed these genes in the thermophilic community. In light of these findings, Micromonospora and other closely related Actinobacteria genera appear to be promising sources of thermophilic lignocellulolytic enzymes for rice straw deconstruction under high-solids conditions. Furthermore, these discoveries warrant future research to determine if exoglucanases with CBM2 represent thermostable enzymes tolerant to the process conditions expected to be encountered during industrial biofuel production.
Lignocellulosic biofuels are promising as sustainable alternative fuels, but lignin inhibits access of enzymes to cellulose, and by-products of lignin degradation can be toxic to cells. The fast growth, high efficiency and specificity of enzymes employed in the anaerobic litter deconstruction carried out by tropical soil bacteria make these organisms useful templates for improving biofuel production. The facultative anaerobe Enterobacter lignolyticus SCF1 was initially cultivated from Cloud Forest soils in the Luquillo Experimental Forest in Puerto Rico, based on anaerobic growth on lignin as sole carbon source. The source of the isolate was tropical forest soils that decompose litter rapidly with low and fluctuating redox potentials, where bacteria using oxygen-independent enzymes likely play an important role in decomposition. We have used transcriptomics and proteomics to examine the observed increased growth of SCF1 grown on media amended with lignin compared to unamended growth. Proteomics suggested accelerated xylose uptake and metabolism under lignin-amended growth, with up-regulation of proteins involved in lignin degradation via the 4-hydroxyphenylacetate degradation pathway, catalase/peroxidase enzymes, and the glutathione biosynthesis and glutathione S-transferase (GST) proteins. We also observed increased production of NADH-quinone oxidoreductase, other electron transport chain proteins, and ATP synthase and ATP-binding cassette (ABC) transporters. This suggested the use of lignin as terminal electron acceptor. We detected significant lignin degradation over time by absorbance, and also used metabolomics to demonstrate moderately significant decreased xylose concentrations as well as increased metabolic products acetate and formate in stationary phase in lignin-amended compared to unamended growth conditions. Our data show the advantages of a multi-omics approach toward providing insights as to how lignin may be used in nature by microorganisms coping with poor carbon availability.
decomposition; anaerobic metabolism; phenol degradation; 4-hydroxyphenylacetate degradation pathway; catalase/peroxidase enzymes; glutathione S-transferase proteins
Thermophilic bacteria are a potential source of enzymes for the deconstruction of lignocellulosic biomass. However, the complement of proteins used to deconstruct biomass and the specific roles of different microbial groups in thermophilic biomass deconstruction are not well-explored. Here we report on the metagenomic and proteogenomic analyses of a compost-derived bacterial consortium adapted to switchgrass at elevated temperature with high levels of glycoside hydrolase activities. Near-complete genomes were reconstructed for the most abundant populations, which included composite genomes for populations closely related to sequenced strains of Thermus thermophilus and Rhodothermus marinus, and for novel populations that are related to thermophilic Paenibacilli and an uncultivated subdivision of the little-studied Gemmatimonadetes phylum. Partial genomes were also reconstructed for a number of lower abundance thermophilic Chloroflexi populations. Identification of genes for lignocellulose processing and metabolic reconstructions suggested Rhodothermus, Paenibacillus and Gemmatimonadetes as key groups for deconstructing biomass, and Thermus as a group that may primarily metabolize low molecular weight compounds. Mass spectrometry-based proteomic analysis of the consortium was used to identify >3000 proteins in fractionated samples from the cultures, and confirmed the importance of Paenibacillus and Gemmatimonadetes to biomass deconstruction. These studies also indicate that there are unexplored proteins with important roles in bacterial lignocellulose deconstruction.
Cellulases are of great interest for application in biomass degradation, yet the molecular details of the mode of action of glycoside hydrolases during degradation of insoluble cellulose remain elusive. To further improve these enzymes for application at industrial conditions, it is critical to gain a better understanding of not only the details of the degradation process, but also the function of accessory modules.
We fused a carbohydrate-binding module (CBM) from family 2a to two thermophilic endoglucanases. We then applied neutron reflectometry to determine the mechanism of the resulting enhancements.
Catalytic activity of the chimeric enzymes was enhanced up to three fold on insoluble cellulose substrates as compared to wild type. Importantly, we demonstrate that the wild type enzymes affect primarily the surface properties of an amorphous cellulose film, while the chimeras containing a CBM alter the bulk properties of the amorphous film.
Our findings suggest that the CBM improves the efficiency of these cellulases by enabling digestion within the bulk of the film.
Cellulases; Endoglucanases; Carbohydrate-Binding modules; Cellulose model films; Neutron reflectometry
The development of affordable woody biomass feedstocks represents a significant opportunity in the development of cellulosic biofuels. Primary woodchips produced by forest mills are considered an ideal feedstock, but the prices they command on the market are currently too expensive for biorefineries. In comparison, forestry residues represent a potential low-cost input but are considered a more challenging feedstock for sugar production due to complexities in composition and potential contamination arising from soil that may be present. We compare the sugar yields, changes in composition in Douglas-fir woodchips and forestry residues after pretreatment using ionic liquids and enzymatic saccharification in order to determine if this approach can efficiently liberate fermentable sugars.
These samples were either mechanically milled through a 2 mm mesh or pretreated as received with the ionic liquid (IL) 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium acetate [C2mim][OAc] at 120°C and 160°C. IL pretreatment of Douglas-fir woodchips and forestry residues resulted in approximately 71-92% glucose yields after enzymatic saccharification. X-ray diffraction (XRD) showed that the pretreated cellulose was less crystalline after IL pretreatment as compared to untreated control samples. Two-dimensional nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (2D-NMR) revealed changes in lignin and hemicellulose structure and composition as a function of pretreatment. Mass balances of sugar and lignin streams for both the Douglas-fir woodchips and forestry residues throughout the pretreatment and enzymatic saccharification processes are presented.
While the highest sugar yields were observed with the Douglas-fir woodchips, reasonably high sugar yields were obtained from forestry residues after ionic liquid pretreatment. Structural changes to lignin, cellulose and hemicellulose in the woodchips and forestry residues of Douglas-fir after [C2mim][OAc] pretreatment are analyzed by XRD and 2D-NMR, and indicate that significant changes occurred. Irrespective of the particle sizes used in this study, ionic liquid pretreatment successfully allowed high glucose yields after enzymatic saccharification. These results indicate that forestry residues may be a more viable feedstock than previously thought for the production of biofuels.
Lignocellulose; Biomass pretreatment; Ionic liquid pretreatment; Douglas-fir; Softwood; Woodchips; Forestry residues; 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium acetate
The use of Ionic liquids (ILs) as biomass solvents is considered to be an attractive alternative for the pretreatment of lignocellulosic biomass. Acid catalysts have been used previously to hydrolyze polysaccharides into fermentable sugars during IL pretreatment. This could potentially provide a means of liberating fermentable sugars from biomass without the use of costly enzymes. However, the separation of the sugars from the aqueous IL and recovery of IL is challenging and imperative to make this process viable.
Aqueous alkaline solutions are used to induce the formation of a biphasic system to recover sugars produced from the acid catalyzed hydrolysis of switchgrass in imidazolium-based ILs. The amount of sugar produced from this process was proportional to the extent of biomass solubilized. Pretreatment at high temperatures (e.g., 160°C, 1.5 h) was more effective in producing glucose. Sugar extraction into the alkali phase was dependent on both the amount of sugar produced by acidolysis and the alkali concentration in the aqueous extractant phase. Maximum yields of 53% glucose and 88% xylose are recovered in the alkali phase, based on the amounts present in the initial biomass. The partition coefficients of glucose and xylose between the IL and alkali phases can be accurately predicted using molecular dynamics simulations.
This biphasic system may enable the facile recycling of IL and rapid recovery of the sugars, and provides an alternative route to the production of monomeric sugars from biomass that eliminates the need for enzymatic saccharification and also reduces the amount of water required.
Sugar extraction; Ionic liquids; Acidolysis; Aqueous biphasic system
Tropical forest soils decompose litter rapidly with frequent episodes of anoxia, making it likely that bacteria using alternate terminal electron acceptors (TEAs) such as iron play a large role in supporting decomposition under these conditions. The prevalence of many types of metabolism in litter deconstruction makes these soils useful templates for improving biofuel production. To investigate how iron availability affects decomposition, we cultivated feedstock-adapted consortia (FACs) derived from iron-rich tropical forest soils accustomed to experiencing frequent episodes of anaerobic conditions and frequently fluctuating redox. One consortium was propagated under fermenting conditions, with switchgrass as the sole carbon source in minimal media (SG only FACs), and the other consortium was treated the same way but received poorly crystalline iron as an additional terminal electron acceptor (SG + Fe FACs). We sequenced the metagenomes of both consortia to a depth of about 150 Mb each, resulting in a coverage of 26× for the more diverse SG + Fe FACs, and 81× for the relatively less diverse SG only FACs. Both consortia were able to quickly grow on switchgrass, and the iron-amended consortium exhibited significantly higher microbial diversity than the unamended consortium. We found evidence of higher stress in the unamended FACs and increased sugar transport and utilization in the iron-amended FACs. This work provides metagenomic evidence that supplementation of alternative TEAs may improve feedstock deconstruction in biofuel production.
Anaerobic decomposition; switchgrass; Panicum virgatum; tropical forest soil; feedstock-adapted consortia; bacteria; archaea; metagenomics
Lignin is often overlooked in the valorization of lignocellulosic biomass, but lignin-based materials and chemicals represent potential value-added products for biorefineries that could significantly improve the economics of a biorefinery. Fluctuating crude oil prices and changing fuel specifications are some of the driving factors to develop new technologies that could be used to convert polymeric lignin into low molecular weight lignin and or monomeric aromatic feedstocks to assist in the displacement of the current products associated with the conversion of a whole barrel of oil. We present an approach to produce these chemicals based on the selective breakdown of lignin during ionic liquid pretreatment.
The lignin breakdown products generated are found to be dependent on the starting biomass, and significant levels were generated on dissolution at 160°C for 6 hrs. Guaiacol was produced on dissolution of biomass and technical lignins. Vanillin was produced on dissolution of kraft lignin and eucalytpus. Syringol and allyl guaiacol were the major products observed on dissolution of switchgrass and pine, respectively, whereas syringol and allyl syringol were obtained by dissolution of eucalyptus. Furthermore, it was observed that different lignin-derived products could be generated by tuning the process conditions.
We have developed an ionic liquid based process that depolymerizes lignin and converts the low molecular weight lignin fractions into a variety of renewable chemicals from biomass. The generated chemicals (phenols, guaiacols, syringols, eugenol, catechols), their oxidized products (vanillin, vanillic acid, syringaldehyde) and their easily derivatized hydrocarbons (benzene, toluene, xylene, styrene, biphenyls and cyclohexane) already have relatively high market value as commodity and specialty chemicals, green building materials, nylons, and resins.
Lignin valorization; Ionic liquid pretreatment; Renewable chemicals; Biofuels
Xylan is the second most abundant polysaccharide on Earth, and represents a major component of both dicot wood and the cell walls of grasses. Much knowledge has been gained from studies of xylan biosynthesis in the model plant, Arabidopsis. In particular, the irregular xylem (irx) mutants, named for their collapsed xylem cells, have been essential in gaining a greater understanding of the genes involved in xylan biosynthesis. In contrast, xylan biosynthesis in grass cell walls is poorly understood. We identified three rice genes Os07g49370 (OsIRX9), Os01g48440 (OsIRX9L), and Os06g47340 (OsIRX14), from glycosyltransferase family 43 as putative orthologs to the putative β-1,4-xylan backbone elongating Arabidopsis
IRX9, IRX9L, and IRX14 genes, respectively. We demonstrate that the over-expression of the closely related rice genes, in full or partly complement the two well-characterized Arabidopsis irregular xylem
(irx) mutants: irx9 and irx14. Complementation was assessed by measuring dwarfed phenotypes, irregular xylem cells in stem cross sections, xylose content of stems, xylosyltransferase (XylT) activity of stems, and stem strength. The expression of OsIRX9 in the irx9 mutant resulted in XylT activity of stems that was over double that of wild type plants, and the stem strength of this line increased to 124% above that of wild type. Taken together, our results suggest that OsIRX9/OsIRX9L, and OsIRX14, have similar functions to the Arabidopsis
IRX9 and IRX14 genes, respectively. Furthermore, our expression data indicate that OsIRX9 and OsIRX9L may function in building the xylan backbone in the secondary and primary cell walls, respectively. Our results provide insight into xylan biosynthesis in rice and how expression of a xylan synthesis gene may be modified to increase stem strength.
xylan; irregular xylan mutants; cell walls; type II cell walls; xylosyltransferase
Eucalypt species are a group of flowering trees widely used in pulp production for paper manufacture. For several decades, the wood pulp industry has focused research and development efforts on improving yields, growth rates and pulp quality through breeding and the genetic improvement of key tree species. Recently, this focus has shifted from the production of high quality pulps to the investigation of the use of eucalypts as feedstocks for biofuel production. Here the structure and chemical composition of the heartwood and sapwood of Eucalyptus dunnii, E. globulus, E. pillularis, E. urophylla, an E. urophylla-E. grandis cross, Corymbia citriodora ssp. variegata, and Acacia mangium were compared using nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR), X-ray diffraction (XRD) and biochemical composition analysis. Some trends relating to these compositions were also identified by Fourier transform near infrared (FT-NIR) spectroscopy. These results will serve as a foundation for a more comprehensive database of wood properties that will help develop criteria for the selection of tree species for use as biorefinery feedstocks.
Thermophilic fungi have attracted increased interest for their ability to secrete enzymes that deconstruct biomass at high temperatures. However, development of thermophilic fungi as enzyme producers for biomass deconstruction has not been thoroughly investigated. Comparing the enzymatic activities of thermophilic fungal strains that grow on targeted biomass feedstocks has the potential to identify promising candidates for strain development. Thielavia terrestris and Thermoascus aurantiacus were chosen for characterization based on literature precedents.
Thermoascus aurantiacus and Thielavia terrestris were cultivated on various biomass substrates and culture supernatants assayed for glycoside hydrolase activities. Supernatants from both cultures possessed comparable glycoside hydrolase activities when incubated with artificial biomass substrates. In contrast, saccharifications of ionic liquid pretreated switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) revealed that T. aurantiacus enzymes released more glucose than T. terrestris enzymes over a range of protein mass loadings and temperatures. Temperature-dependent saccharifications demonstrated that the T. aurantiacus proteins retained higher levels of activity compared to a commercial enzyme mixture sold by Novozymes, Cellic CTec2, at elevated temperatures. Enzymes secreted by T. aurantiacus released glucose at similar protein loadings to CTec2 on dilute acid, ammonia fiber expansion, or ionic liquid pretreated switchgrass. Proteomic analysis of the T. aurantiacus culture supernatant revealed dominant glycoside hydrolases from families 5, 7, 10, and 61, proteins that are key enzymes in commercial cocktails.
T. aurantiacus produces a complement of secreted proteins capable of higher levels of saccharification of pretreated switchgrass than T. terrestris enzymes. The T. aurantiacus enzymatic cocktail performs at the same level as commercially available enzymatic cocktail for biomass deconstruction, without strain development or genetic modifications. Therefore, T. aurantiacus provides an excellent platform to develop a thermophilic fungal system for enzyme production for the conversion of biomass to biofuels.
Thermoascus aurantiacus; Thielavia terrestris; GH 61; Polysaccharide monooxygenases; Fungal secretome; Ammonia fiber expansion; Ionic liquid; 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium acetate; Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)
Metagenomics approaches provide access to environmental genetic diversity for biotechnology applications, enabling the discovery of new enzymes and pathways for numerous catalytic processes. Discovery of new glycoside hydrolases with improved biocatalytic properties for the efficient conversion of lignocellulosic material to biofuels is a critical challenge in the development of economically viable routes from biomass to fuels and chemicals.
Twenty-two putative ORFs (open reading frames) were identified from a switchgrass-adapted compost community based on sequence homology to related gene families. These ORFs were expressed in E. coli and assayed for predicted activities. Seven of the ORFs were demonstrated to encode active enzymes, encompassing five classes of hemicellulases. Four enzymes were over expressed in vivo, purified to homogeneity and subjected to detailed biochemical characterization. Their pH optima ranged between 5.5 - 7.5 and they exhibit moderate thermostability up to ~60-70°C.
Seven active enzymes were identified from this set of ORFs comprising five different hemicellulose activities. These enzymes have been shown to have useful properties, such as moderate thermal stability and broad pH optima, and may serve as the starting points for future protein engineering towards the goal of developing efficient enzyme cocktails for biomass degradation under diverse process conditions.
Generation of biofuels from sugars in lignocellulosic biomass is a promising alternative to liquid fossil fuels, but efficient and inexpensive bioprocessing configurations must be developed to make this technology commercially viable. One of the major barriers to commercialization is the recalcitrance of plant cell wall polysaccharides to enzymatic hydrolysis. Biomass pretreatment with ionic liquids (ILs) enables efficient saccharification of biomass, but residual ILs inhibit both saccharification and microbial fuel production, requiring extensive washing after IL pretreatment. Pretreatment itself can also produce biomass-derived inhibitory compounds that reduce microbial fuel production. Therefore, there are multiple points in the process from biomass to biofuel production that must be interrogated and optimized to maximize fuel production. Here, we report the development of an IL-tolerant cellulase cocktail by combining thermophilic bacterial glycoside hydrolases produced by a mixed consortia with recombinant glycoside hydrolases. This enzymatic cocktail saccharifies IL-pretreated biomass at higher temperatures and in the presence of much higher IL concentrations than commercial fungal cocktails. Sugars obtained from saccharification of IL-pretreated switchgrass using this cocktail can be converted into biodiesel (fatty acid ethyl-esters or FAEEs) by a metabolically engineered strain of E. coli. During these studies, we found that this biodiesel-producing E. coli strain was sensitive to ILs and inhibitors released by saccharification. This cocktail will enable the development of novel biomass to biofuel bioprocessing configurations that may overcome some of the barriers to production of inexpensive cellulosic biofuels.
Tropical forest soils decompose litter rapidly with frequent episodes of anoxic conditions, making it likely that bacteria using alternate terminal electron acceptors (TEAs) play a large role in decomposition. This makes these soils useful templates for improving biofuel production. To investigate how TEAs affect decomposition, we cultivated feedstock-adapted consortia (FACs) derived from two tropical forest soils collected from the ends of a rainfall gradient: organic matter-rich tropical cloud forest (CF) soils, which experience sustained low redox, and iron-rich tropical rain forest (RF) soils, which experience rapidly fluctuating redox. Communities were anaerobically passed through three transfers of 10 weeks each with switchgrass as a sole carbon (C) source; FACs were then amended with nitrate, sulfate, or iron oxide. C mineralization and cellulase activities were higher in CF-FACs than in RF-FACs. Pyrosequencing of the small-subunit rRNA revealed members of the Firmicutes, Bacteroidetes, and Alphaproteobacteria as dominant. RF- and CF-FAC communities were not different in microbial diversity or biomass. The RF-FACs, derived from fluctuating redox soils, were the most responsive to the addition of TEAs, while the CF-FACs were overall more efficient and productive, both on a per-gram switchgrass and a per-cell biomass basis. These results suggest that decomposing microbial communities in fluctuating redox environments are adapted to the presence of a diversity of TEAs and ready to take advantage of them. More importantly, these data highlight the role of local environmental conditions in shaping microbial community function that may be separate from phylogenetic structure.
After multiple transfers, we established microbial consortia derived from two tropical forest soils with different native redox conditions. Communities derived from the rapidly fluctuating redox environment maintained a capacity to use added terminal electron acceptors (TEAs) after multiple transfers, though they were not present during the enrichment. Communities derived from lower-redox soils were not responsive to TEA addition but were much more efficient at switchgrass decomposition. Though the communities were different, diversity was not, and both were dominated by many of the same species of clostridia. This reflects the inadequacy of rRNA for determining the function of microbial communities, in this case the retained ability to utilize TEAs that were not part of the selective growth conditions. More importantly, this suggests that microbial community function is shaped by life history, where environmental factors produce heritable traits through natural selection over time, creating variation in the community, a phenomenon not well documented for microbes.
Industrial-scale biofuel production requires robust enzymatic cocktails to produce fermentable sugars from lignocellulosic biomass. Thermophilic bacterial consortia are a potential source of cellulases and hemicellulases adapted to harsher reaction conditions than commercial fungal enzymes. Compost-derived microbial consortia were adapted to switchgrass at 60°C to develop thermophilic biomass-degrading consortia for detailed studies. Microbial community analysis using small-subunit rRNA gene amplicon pyrosequencing and short-read metagenomic sequencing demonstrated that thermophilic adaptation to switchgrass resulted in low-diversity bacterial consortia with a high abundance of bacteria related to thermophilic paenibacilli, Rhodothermus marinus, and Thermus thermophilus. At lower abundance, thermophilic Chloroflexi and an uncultivated lineage of the Gemmatimonadetes phylum were observed. Supernatants isolated from these consortia had high levels of xylanase and endoglucanase activities. Compared to commercial enzyme preparations, the endoglucanase enzymes had a higher thermotolerance and were more stable in the presence of 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium acetate ([C2mim][OAc]), an ionic liquid used for biomass pretreatment. The supernatants were used to saccharify [C2mim][OAc]-pretreated switchgrass at elevated temperatures (up to 80°C), demonstrating that these consortia are an excellent source of enzymes for the development of enzymatic cocktails tailored to more extreme reaction conditions.
In an effort to discover anaerobic bacteria capable of lignin degradation, we isolated “Enterobacter lignolyticus” SCF1 on minimal media with alkali lignin as the sole source of carbon. This organism was isolated anaerobically from tropical forest soils collected from the Short Cloud Forest site in the El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico, USA, part of the Luquillo Long-Term Ecological Research Station. At this site, the soils experience strong fluctuations in redox potential and are net methane producers. Because of its ability to grow on lignin anaerobically, we sequenced the genome. The genome of “E. lignolyticus” SCF1 is 4.81 Mbp with no detected plasmids, and includes a relatively small arsenal of lignocellulolytic carbohydrate active enzymes. Lignin degradation was observed in culture, and the genome revealed two putative laccases, a putative peroxidase, and a complete 4-hydroxyphenylacetate degradation pathway encoded in a single gene cluster.
Anaerobic lignin degradation; tropical forest soil isolate; facultative anaerobe
Lignin is often the most difficult portion of plant biomass to degrade, with fungi generally thought to dominate during late stage decomposition. Lignin in feedstock plant material represents a barrier to more efficient plant biomass conversion and can also hinder enzymatic access to cellulose, which is critical for biofuels production. Tropical rain forest soils in Puerto Rico are characterized by frequent anoxic conditions and fluctuating redox, suggesting the presence of lignin-degrading organisms and mechanisms that are different from known fungal decomposers and oxygen-dependent enzyme activities. We explored microbial lignin-degraders by burying bio-traps containing lignin-amended and unamended biosep beads in the soil for 1, 4, 13 and 30 weeks. At each time point, phenol oxidase and peroxidase enzyme activity was found to be elevated in the lignin-amended versus the unamended beads, while cellulolytic enzyme activities were significantly depressed in lignin-amended beads. Quantitative PCR of bacterial communities showed more bacterial colonization in the lignin-amended compared to the unamended beads after one and four weeks, suggesting that the lignin supported increased bacterial abundance. The microbial community was analyzed by small subunit 16S ribosomal RNA genes using microarray (PhyloChip) and by high-throughput amplicon pyrosequencing based on universal primers targeting bacterial, archaeal, and eukaryotic communities. Community trends were significantly affected by time and the presence of lignin on the beads. Lignin-amended beads have higher relative abundances of representatives from the phyla Actinobacteria, Firmicutes, Acidobacteria and Proteobacteria compared to unamended beads. This study suggests that in low and fluctuating redox soils, bacteria could play a role in anaerobic lignin decomposition.
Here, the crystal structure of an endoglucanase, Cel9A, from Alicyclobacillus acidocaldarius (Aa_Cel9A) is reported which displays a modular architecture composed of an N-terminal Ig-like domain connected to the catalytic domain. This paper describes the overall structure and the detailed contacts between the two modules.
The production of biofuels using biomass is an alternative route to support the growing global demand for energy and to also reduce the environmental problems caused by the burning of fossil fuels. Cellulases are likely to play an important role in the degradation of biomass and the production of sugars for subsequent fermentation to fuel. Here, the crystal structure of an endoglucanase, Cel9A, from Alicyclobacillus acidocaldarius (Aa_Cel9A) is reported which displays a modular architecture composed of an N-terminal Ig-like domain connected to the catalytic domain. This paper describes the overall structure and the detailed contacts between the two modules. Analysis suggests that the interaction involving the residues Gln13 (from the Ig-like module) and Phe439 (from the catalytic module) is important in maintaining the correct conformation of the catalytic module required for protein activity. Moreover, the Aa_Cel9A structure shows three metal-binding sites that are associated with the thermostability and/or substrate affinity of the enzyme.
endoglucanases; thermoacidophiles; cellulases; biofuels
Development of cellulosic biofuels from non-food crops is currently an area of intense research interest. Tailoring depolymerizing enzymes to particular feedstocks and pretreatment conditions is one promising avenue of research in this area. Here we added a green-waste compost inoculum to switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) and simulated thermophilic composting in a bioreactor to select for a switchgrass-adapted community and to facilitate targeted discovery of glycoside hydrolases. Small-subunit (SSU) rRNA-based community profiles revealed that the microbial community changed dramatically between the initial and switchgrass-adapted compost (SAC) with some bacterial populations being enriched over 20-fold. We obtained 225 Mbp of 454-titanium pyrosequence data from the SAC community and conservatively identified 800 genes encoding glycoside hydrolase domains that were biased toward depolymerizing grass cell wall components. Of these, ∼10% were putative cellulases mostly belonging to families GH5 and GH9. We synthesized two SAC GH9 genes with codon optimization for heterologous expression in Escherichia coli and observed activity for one on carboxymethyl cellulose. The active GH9 enzyme has a temperature optimum of 50°C and pH range of 5.5 to 8 consistent with the composting conditions applied. We demonstrate that microbial communities adapt to switchgrass decomposition using simulated composting condition and that full-length genes can be identified from complex metagenomic sequence data, synthesized and expressed resulting in active enzyme.
A review of the potential for biofuel production in the United States from timber and non-grain crops.
The development of second-generation biofuels - those that do not rely on grain crops as inputs - will require a diverse set of feedstocks that can be grown sustainably and processed cost-effectively. Here we review the outlook and challenges for meeting hoped-for production targets for such biofuels in the United States.