20 August 2012

Queen’s researcher works to improve biofuel production

Recent study showing multi-enzyme bacterial complex to break down plant cell wall materials

New research in understanding the way bacteria contribute to breaking down biomass could lead to creating more cost-effective biofuel. Biomass generally refers to plants and trees used to make biofuel.

Steven Smith and Zhongchao Jia (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) and Edward Bayer (Weizmann Institute, Israel) co-authors of a recent study, are studying a multi-enzyme bacterial complex called cellulosome, that is highly efficient at degrading biomass. This breaking down of plant cell wall materials reduces plants and trees to sugars used for creating biofuel.

The researchers are aiming to better understand the process and produce artificial types of complexes in the lab. These complexes will allow biofuel producers more control over the process.

“The bacterial enzyme complex does a phenomenal job of breaking up plant cell walls,” says Dr. Smith. “By learning what that complex looks like and how it is assembled, we can better achieve a better understanding as to why it is so efficient at degrading biomass.”

Dr. Smith and his colleagues are using X-ray based techniques to generate high-resolution/high definition shapes of the cellulosomal protein complex to understand where every atom in the complex is located in the bacteria.

The research, funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, was published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Source: Queens University, press release, 2012-08-20.

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