U.S. scientists find new source of biofuels

Researchers have found new types of cellulases which can be used to make biofuels and bioproducts, a study said Tuesday.

The research was led by scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute, based at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), an institution conducting unclassified research across a wide range of scientific disciplines managed by University of California Berkeley (UC Berkeley).

The cellulases were cultured from a microbiome in a way different from typical approaches to use isolated organisms to obtain enzymes, said the study published in a recent edition of the Nature Microbiology journal.

The scientists first studied the microbial menagerie present in a few cups of municipal compost, and found that 70 percent of the enzymatic activity originated from cellulases produced by a cluster of uncultivated bacteria in the compost.

The enzymes easily broke down the cellulose in plant biomass into glucose when temperatures reached 80 degrees Celsius, according to their observation.

Because some microbes are difficult to culture in a lab, scientists are cultivating microbes living in communities, as they occur in the wild, which makes it possible for them to see things that cannot be seen when they are isolated, said Steve Singer, a senior scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Biological Systems and Engineering Division.

This helped the scientists discover new types of enzymes that are only produced by microbes in communities.

The bacterial population produced cellulases that were arranged in remarkably robust carbohydrate-protein complexes in a structure that is stable enough for them to be used for commercial biofuels production.

Unlike other cellulases that degrade more easily at high temperatures, the new enzymes possess a key advantage — stability, which enjoys a high commercial value of making biofuels and bioproducts.

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