International researchers collaborate on project to sequence, analyze fungi strains in quest for super enzymes that can break down biomass, potentially cut bioenergy production costs

LOS ANGELES , July 3, 2012 () – A team of international researchers led by the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute is co-operating on an enzyme discovery project aimed at breaking down plant biomass and potentially cutting biomass production costs, Biomass Magazine reported on July 3.

The international team is sequencing and analyzing fungi strains to understand how enzymes present break down plant biomass, focusing on two white rot fungi genomes, Biomass Magazine reported.

According to Kent Kirk, a former researcher at the USDA’s Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) in Madison, Wisconsin, work with fungi along these lines began at the University of Minnesota. Researchers there sought to improve biopulping--a way of turning woody biomass into pulp for the paper industry by exposing it to the C. subvermispora fungi for two weeks.

The process reduced biomass energy processing costs by 30% and Kirk says biopulping could become more popular amid rising energy costs.

According to FPL’s Dan Cullen, senior author of the international research study, few fungi can degrade lignin, and even fewer can selectively remove it at an efficient rate. The biopulping fungus C. subvermispora may be the exception.

The study “Comparative genomics of Ceriporiopsis subvermispora and Phanerochaete chrysosporium provide insight into selective ligninolysis,” found large differences in the way C. subvermispora and P. chrysosporium break down lignin.

Cullen acknowledges the need for further research and more genetic analysis to better understand selective lignin degradation, but he believes his team has made significant progress on understanding the power of the C. submvermispora fungus, Biomass Magazine reported.

Angel Martinez, a researcher at the Spanish National Research Council in Madrid, theorizes that C. subvermispora has more manganese peroxidases and laccase, both enzymes that speed lignin degradation.

Meanwhile, Igor Grigoriev, who leads the JGI Fungal Genomics Program, says his team is undertaking genome analysis projects on 20 similar fungi strains in pursuit of a better understanding of lignocellulose degradation in fungi and its influence on carbon cycling in the forest ecosystem. Ultimately, he says, the findings should lead to improvements in biopulping.

The primary source of this article is Biomass Magazine, Grand Forks, North Dakota, July 3, 2012.

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