Novel enzymes to cut out fossil fuel

Converting carbon from renewable resources, such as woody or waste biomass, into fuels, chemicals and materials is a challenge made easier with a new class of fungal enzymes.

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Lignocellulosic biomass, which is abundant, low cost and rich in sugars, is very well positioned to become the raw material of the future. The conversion of lignocellulosic (woody, often waste) biomass into fuels, chemicals and materials is desirable as it reduces competition for agricultural land. From a circular economy perspective, valorization of plant biomass is expected to enable the transition from a fossil to a renewable carbon-based economy (so-called bioeconomy), thus limiting greenhouse gas emission and climate change.

The natural resistance to microbial and enzymatic deconstruction, collectively known as "biomass recalcitrance", is one of the main bottlenecks for the development of sustainable biorefineries, being largely responsible for the high cost of enzymatic conversion of biomass. The discovery of a new class of enzymes that can cleave carbohydrate bonds, lytic polysaccharide monooxygenases (LPMOs), has revolutionized our current understanding of the enzymatic conversion of recalcitrant biomass.

LPMOs are abundant in nature, especially in filamentous fungi and of great biotechnological interest. Scientists worldwide are discovering new LPMO sequence families and novel substrate specificities. For example, our own group recently characterized a new enzyme family, isolated from fungi normally found associated with plant biomass.

After the second LPMO symposium organized in Marseille (France) in November 2018, a special issue  is now published in Biotechnology for Biofuels with cutting-edge research on this enlarging class of exciting enzymes.

By: Jean-Guy Berrin/INRA

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