A solution on paper

July 12, 2005

One wouldn't expect paper to be a major source of pollution: after all, it's made from wood, which in nature breaks down into tiny components that re-enter the plant growth cycle. Yet without proper dampness and other conditions that are often missing in garbage dumps, paper fails to decompose for dozens of years. As a result, billions of tons of wastepaper cram the planet's landfills, creating an enormous environmental problem worldwide.

Prof. Edward Bayer of the Weizmann Institute's Biological Chemistry Department has developed a process that one day may yield a solution to the global wastepaper glut. Back in 1983, he and Prof. Raphael Lamed of Tel Aviv University discovered the cellulosome, a molecular complex that degrades cellulose, a major component of wood, cotton and other types of plant matter. In subsequent years, Bayer and Lamed elucidated the cellulosome's architecture and identified its major components.

The cellulosome is normally not good at breaking down man-made cellulose products such as paper, but Bayer and his colleagues are now developing "designer" cellulosomes that can improve on nature. Using genetic engineering and combining different structural elements in a Lego-like design, the scientists are putting together artificial cellulosomes that are unusually effective.

One such synthetic cellulosome owes its mastery to the fact that it's made of enzymes with complementary modes of action. In a laboratory dish, this cellulosome takes only about a day to turn finely chopped paper, made of insoluble cellulose chains of up to 10,000 sugar units in length, into a syrup of soluble sugars. The method, reported recently in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, is far from being ready for use in actual landfills, but it points toward a promising approach to waste management: decreasing pollution while producing useful materials.
-end-
Prof. Ed Bayer's research is supported by the Fusfeld Research Fund; and Mr. and Mrs. Mordechai Glikson, Israel.

American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science

Related Cellulosome Articles from Brightsurf:

Discovery of pH-dependent 'switch' in interaction between pair of protein molecules
All biological processes are in some way pH-dependent. Our human bodies, and those of other organisms, need to maintain specific- and constant- pH regulation in order to function.

How bacteria adhere to fiber in the gut
Researchers have revealed a new molecular mechanism by which bacteria adhere to cellulose fibers in the human gut.

Breaking down stubborn cellulose in time lapse
Researchers at Graz Unversity of Technology in Austria have for the first time ever succeeded in visualizing at the single-molecule level the processes involved in a biological nanomachine, known as the cellulosome, as it degrades crystalline cellulose.

Structural and functional mechanisms of a new class of bacterial sigma/anti-sigma factors revealed
Prof. FENG Yingang and his colleagues from the Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Bioprocess Technology (QIBEBT) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences recently revealed the structural and functional mechanism of the SigI/RsgI factors from C. thermocellum.

Getting to the point (mutations) in re-engineering biofuel-producing bacterial enzymes
Helping bacteria become more efficient when breaking down fibrous plant waste into biofuel could result in more affordable biofuels for our gas tanks and sustainable products such as bioplastics.

Guts to glory?
Newly discovered enzyme complexes in herbivore digestive tracts show promise for sustainable fuels and medicines.

Fungal enzymes team up to more efficiently break down cellulose
Cost-effectively breaking down bioenergy crops into sugars that can then be converted into fuel is a barrier to commercially producing sustainable biofuels.

NREL explains the higher cellulolytic activity of a vital microorganism
Researchers at the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the BioEnergy Science Center (BESC) say better understanding of a bacterium could lead to cheaper production of cellulosic ethanol and other advanced biofuels.

Supercomputers help solve puzzle-like bond for biofuels
Dr. Klaus Schulten and team discover one of life's strongest bonds with the help of supercomputers.

Can engineered bugs help generate biofuels? Study holds promise
The versatile organism Lactococcus lactis, the workhorse bacterium that helps turn milk into cheese, may also be valuable in the understanding of how microbes turn the organic compound cellulose into biofuels.

Read More: Cellulosome News and Cellulosome Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.