Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Tapping fungus to unlock energy: Crafting a better enzyme cocktail to turn plants into fuel faster

Date:
November 4, 2013
Source:
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Summary:
Scientists looking to create a potent blend of enzymes to transform materials like corn stalks and wood chips into fuels have developed a test that should turbocharge their efforts. Efforts revolve around the fungus Trichoderma reesei, which churns out enzymes that chew through molecules like complex sugars.

Trichoderma reesei.
Credit: Image courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Scientists looking to create a potent blend of enzymes to transform materials like corn stalks and wood chips into fuels have developed a test that should turbocharge their efforts.

The new research, published in October in the journal Molecular BioSystems, is part of a worldwide effort to create fuels from plants that are plentiful and aren't part of the food supply. It's possible to do this today, but the process is costly, laborious and lengthy. The findings by chemists and colleagues at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory open the possibility that laboratory research that now takes months could be reduced to days, and that scientists will be able to assess more options for biofuel development than is possible today.

Many of today's efforts revolve around the fungus Trichoderma reesei, which introduced itself to U.S. troops during World War II by chewing through their tents in the Pacific theater. Seventy years later, T. reesei is a star in the world of biofuels because of its ability to churn out enzymes that chew through molecules like complex sugars.

The breakdown of large sugar polymers into smaller compounds that can then be further converted to fuel compounds is the final, crucial step in the effort to make fuels from materials like switchgrass and corn stalks. These plants and many others are full of energy, stored in carbon bonds, which can be converted into fuel, if scientists can find ways to free the compounds that store the energy from the tough structural material, known as lignocellulose, which holds the plants together.

Lignocellulose is what stands between you and a tankful of fuel created from corn stalks or switchgrass.

"The ultimate goal is to begin with a plant material like corn stalks, for instance, and to subject it to a cocktail of enzymes that would convert those plants to fuel," said chemist Aaron Wright, who led the PNNL team. "It takes a series of steps to do that, and the cost has to come down if these fuels are to compete seriously with traditional hydrocarbon-based fuels."

T. reesei chews through materials naturally, cutting through the chemical "wrapping" much like a person with scissors cuts through a tightly wrapped ribbon around a gift, freeing the inner contents for enjoyment. The fungus actually makes dozens of cutting enzymes, each of which attacks the wrapping differently. Chemists like Wright are trying to combine and improve upon the best ones to create a potent chemical cocktail, a mix of enzymes that accomplishes the task super efficiently. That would bring down the cost of producing biofuels.

Wright's study focused on a subset of the fungus's collection of cutting tools, on enzymes known as glycoside hydrolases. It's their job to break down complex sugars into simple sugars, a key step in the fuel production process.

To assess the effectiveness of mixtures of these enzymes, scientists must either measure the overall performance of the mixture, or they must test the component enzymes one at a time to see how each reacts to different conditions like temperature, pressure and pH.

Wright's team developed a way to measure the activity of each of the ingredients simultaneously, as well as the mixture overall. Instead of needing to run a series of experiments, each focusing on a separate enzyme, the team runs one experiment and tracks precisely how each of dozens of enzymes reacts to changing conditions.

A series of experiments detailing the activity of 30 enzymes, for instance, now might be accomplished in a day or two with the new technology, compared to several months using today's commonplace methods, the scientists say.

The key to the work is a chemical probe the team created to monitor the activity of many enzymes at once. The heart of the system, known as activity-based protein profiling, is a chemical probe that binds to glycoside hydrolases and gives off information indicating just how active each of those enzymes is moment by moment.

"Identifying exactly which enzymes are doing most of the work you need done is crucial for making this an economical process," said Wright. "We're trying to keep tabs on the precise activity of every enzyme as each goes through a very complex process, as conditions like temperature and pH vary, to measure their activity through each stage."

"We can test the whole mixture, and we can also tease out each individual contribution. People have not been able to do that all at once before," added Wright, whose study was funded by PNNL.

Many of the measurements for the study, such as the measures of protein activity using mass spectrometry, were done at EMSL, the DOE's Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory on the PNNL campus. Wright's team included Lindsey Anderson, David Culley, Beth Hofstad, Lacie Chauvignι-Hines, Erika Zink, Samuel Purvine, Richard Smith, Stephen Callister, and Jon Magnuson, all of PNNL.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Lindsey N. Anderson, David E. Culley, Beth A. Hofstad, Lacie M. Chauvignι-Hines, Erika M. Zink, Samuel O. Purvine, Richard D. Smith, Stephen J. Callister, Jon M. Magnuson, Aaron T. Wright. Activity-based protein profiling of secreted cellulolytic enzyme activity dynamics in Trichoderma reesei QM6a, NG14, and RUT-C30. Molecular BioSystems, 2013; 9 (12): 2992 DOI: 10.1039/c3mb70333a

Cite This Page:

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. "Tapping fungus to unlock energy: Crafting a better enzyme cocktail to turn plants into fuel faster." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 November 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131104091718.htm>.
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. (2013, November 4). Tapping fungus to unlock energy: Crafting a better enzyme cocktail to turn plants into fuel faster. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131104091718.htm
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. "Tapping fungus to unlock energy: Crafting a better enzyme cocktail to turn plants into fuel faster." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131104091718.htm (accessed April 20, 2014).

Share This



More Matter & Energy News

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Small Reactors Could Be Future of Nuclear Energy

Small Reactors Could Be Future of Nuclear Energy

AP (Apr. 17, 2014) — After the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the industry fell under intense scrutiny. Now, small underground nuclear power plants are being considered as the possible future of the nuclear energy. (April 17) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Horseless Carriage Introduced at NY Auto Show

Horseless Carriage Introduced at NY Auto Show

AP (Apr. 17, 2014) — An electric car that proponents hope will replace horse-drawn carriages in New York City has also been revealed at the auto show. (Apr. 17) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Honda's New ASIMO Robot, More Human-Like Than Ever

Honda's New ASIMO Robot, More Human-Like Than Ever

AFP (Apr. 17, 2014) — It walks and runs, even up and down stairs. It can open a bottle and serve a drink, and politely tries to shake hands with a stranger. Meet the latest ASIMO, Honda's humanoid robot. Duration: 00:54 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
German Researchers Crack Samsung's Fingerprint Scanner

German Researchers Crack Samsung's Fingerprint Scanner

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2014) — German researchers have used a fake fingerprint made from glue to bypass the fingerprint security system on Samsung's new Galaxy S5 smartphone. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins