Science Daily is reporting a Cornell University breakthrough that could make the cost of producing cellulosic ethanol less expensive. Researchers have discovered a new class of plant enzymes that could potentially allow plant materials to be broken down much more efficiently than with current enzymes.
The current method for breaking down a plant’s cell wall uses microbial enzymes called “cellulases”. Cellulases have a structure that makes them very efficient at binding to and digesting the plant cell wall. The new class of plant enzymes just discovered have a similar structure to the cellulases. The researchers feel that study of these new enzymes will lead to more efficient cellulose digestion.
“The bottleneck for conversion of lignocellulose into ethanol is efficient cellulose degradation,” said Jocelyn Rose, Cornell assistant professor of plant biology. “The discovery of these enzymes suggests there might be sets of new plant enzymes to improve the efficiency of cellulose degradation.”
This schematic diagram shows the newly discovered class of plant enzymes with a cellulose-binding module (shown in blue), sticking to a plant cell wall. The binding module of the enzyme helps the catalytic region of the enzyme (shown in more detail in gray in the pullout part of the picture) break down the crystalline cellulose. (Credit: Daniel Ripoll and Chris Pelkie/Cornell Theory Center)