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1.  Genomic Evaluation of Thermoanaerobacter spp. for the Construction of Designer Co-Cultures to Improve Lignocellulosic Biofuel Production 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(3):e59362.
The microbial production of ethanol from lignocellulosic biomass is a multi-component process that involves biomass hydrolysis, carbohydrate transport and utilization, and finally, the production of ethanol. Strains of the genus Thermoanaerobacter have been studied for decades due to their innate abilities to produce comparatively high ethanol yields from hemicellulose constituent sugars. However, their inability to hydrolyze cellulose, limits their usefulness in lignocellulosic biofuel production. As such, co-culturing Thermoanaerobacter spp. with cellulolytic organisms is a plausible approach to improving lignocellulose conversion efficiencies and yields of biofuels. To evaluate native lignocellulosic ethanol production capacities relative to competing fermentative end-products, comparative genomic analysis of 11 sequenced Thermoanaerobacter strains, including a de novo genome, Thermoanaerobacter thermohydrosulfuricus WC1, was conducted. Analysis was specifically focused on the genomic potential for each strain to address all aspects of ethanol production mentioned through a consolidated bioprocessing approach. Whole genome functional annotation analysis identified three distinct clades within the genus. The genomes of Clade 1 strains encode the fewest extracellular carbohydrate active enzymes and also show the least diversity in terms of lignocellulose relevant carbohydrate utilization pathways. However, these same strains reportedly are capable of directing a higher proportion of their total carbon flux towards ethanol, rather than non-biofuel end-products, than other Thermoanaerobacter strains. Strains in Clade 2 show the greatest diversity in terms of lignocellulose hydrolysis and utilization, but proportionately produce more non-ethanol end-products than Clade 1 strains. Strains in Clade 3, in which T. thermohydrosulfuricus WC1 is included, show mid-range potential for lignocellulose hydrolysis and utilization, but also exhibit extensive divergence from both Clade 1 and Clade 2 strains in terms of cellular energetics. The potential implications regarding strain selection and suitability for industrial ethanol production through a consolidated bioprocessing co-culturing approach are examined throughout the manuscript.
PMCID: PMC3608648  PMID: 23555660
2.  Linking genome content to biofuel production yields: a meta-analysis of major catabolic pathways among select H2 and ethanol-producing bacteria 
BMC Microbiology  2012;12:295.
Fermentative bacteria offer the potential to convert lignocellulosic waste-streams into biofuels such as hydrogen (H2) and ethanol. Current fermentative H2 and ethanol yields, however, are below theoretical maxima, vary greatly among organisms, and depend on the extent of metabolic pathways utilized. For fermentative H2 and/or ethanol production to become practical, biofuel yields must be increased. We performed a comparative meta-analysis of (i) reported end-product yields, and (ii) genes encoding pyruvate metabolism and end-product synthesis pathways to identify suitable biomarkers for screening a microorganism’s potential of H2 and/or ethanol production, and to identify targets for metabolic engineering to improve biofuel yields. Our interest in H2 and/or ethanol optimization restricted our meta-analysis to organisms with sequenced genomes and limited branched end-product pathways. These included members of the Firmicutes, Euryarchaeota, and Thermotogae.
Bioinformatic analysis revealed that the absence of genes encoding acetaldehyde dehydrogenase and bifunctional acetaldehyde/alcohol dehydrogenase (AdhE) in Caldicellulosiruptor, Thermococcus, Pyrococcus, and Thermotoga species coincide with high H2 yields and low ethanol production. Organisms containing genes (or activities) for both ethanol and H2 synthesis pathways (i.e. Caldanaerobacter subterraneus subsp. tengcongensis, Ethanoligenens harbinense, and Clostridium species) had relatively uniform mixed product patterns. The absence of hydrogenases in Geobacillus and Bacillus species did not confer high ethanol production, but rather high lactate production. Only Thermoanaerobacter pseudethanolicus produced relatively high ethanol and low H2 yields. This may be attributed to the presence of genes encoding proteins that promote NADH production. Lactate dehydrogenase and pyruvate:formate lyase are not conducive for ethanol and/or H2 production. While the type(s) of encoded hydrogenases appear to have little impact on H2 production in organisms that do not encode ethanol producing pathways, they do influence reduced end-product yields in those that do.
Here we show that composition of genes encoding pathways involved in pyruvate catabolism and end-product synthesis pathways can be used to approximate potential end-product distribution patterns. We have identified a number of genetic biomarkers for streamlining ethanol and H2 producing capabilities. By linking genome content, reaction thermodynamics, and end-product yields, we offer potential targets for optimization of either ethanol or H2 yields through metabolic engineering.
PMCID: PMC3561251  PMID: 23249097
3.  Proteomic analysis of Clostridium thermocellum core metabolism: relative protein expression profiles and growth phase-dependent changes in protein expression 
BMC Microbiology  2012;12:214.
Clostridium thermocellum produces H2 and ethanol, as well as CO2, acetate, formate, and lactate, directly from cellulosic biomass. It is therefore an attractive model for biofuel production via consolidated bioprocessing. Optimization of end-product yields and titres is crucial for making biofuel production economically feasible. Relative protein expression profiles may provide targets for metabolic engineering, while understanding changes in protein expression and metabolism in response to carbon limitation, pH, and growth phase may aid in reactor optimization. We performed shotgun 2D-HPLC-MS/MS on closed-batch cellobiose-grown exponential phase C. thermocellum cell-free extracts to determine relative protein expression profiles of core metabolic proteins involved carbohydrate utilization, energy conservation, and end-product synthesis. iTRAQ (isobaric tag for relative and absolute quantitation) based protein quantitation was used to determine changes in core metabolic proteins in response to growth phase.
Relative abundance profiles revealed differential levels of putative enzymes capable of catalyzing parallel pathways. The majority of proteins involved in pyruvate catabolism and end-product synthesis were detected with high abundance, with the exception of aldehyde dehydrogenase, ferredoxin-dependent Ech-type [NiFe]-hydrogenase, and RNF-type NADH:ferredoxin oxidoreductase. Using 4-plex 2D-HPLC-MS/MS, 24% of the 144 core metabolism proteins detected demonstrated moderate changes in expression during transition from exponential to stationary phase. Notably, proteins involved in pyruvate synthesis decreased in stationary phase, whereas proteins involved in glycogen metabolism, pyruvate catabolism, and end-product synthesis increased in stationary phase. Several proteins that may directly dictate end-product synthesis patterns, including pyruvate:ferredoxin oxidoreductases, alcohol dehydrogenases, and a putative bifurcating hydrogenase, demonstrated differential expression during transition from exponential to stationary phase.
Relative expression profiles demonstrate which proteins are likely utilized in carbohydrate utilization and end-product synthesis and suggest that H2 synthesis occurs via bifurcating hydrogenases while ethanol synthesis is predominantly catalyzed by a bifunctional aldehyde/alcohol dehydrogenase. Differences in expression profiles of core metabolic proteins in response to growth phase may dictate carbon and electron flux towards energy storage compounds and end-products. Combined knowledge of relative protein expression levels and their changes in response to physiological conditions may aid in targeted metabolic engineering strategies and optimization of fermentation conditions for improvement of biofuels production.
PMCID: PMC3492117  PMID: 22994686

Results 1-3 (3)