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Understanding enzymes for better second-gen biofuels

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Brazilian researchers have improved the understanding of how enzymes breakdown biomass to improve their modification. The scientists hope that the research will lead to advances in enzymes used in the biofuels industry.

Researchers at the University of Campinas in Brazil, with colleagues from Rio de Janeiro State University, have published a study furthering our understanding of the biological mechanisms behind the control and production of hydrolytic enzymes by fungi. Hydrolytic enzymes break down carbohydrates from sources like sugarcane into sugars that can be used for fermentation.

“Our discoveries can contribute to the development of enzymes for inclusion in enzymatic cocktails used to produce 2G ethanol and other products,” said Anete Pereira de Souza, a professor at UNICAMP and principal investigator for the project.

The researchers looked at the genetic mechanisms involved in the secretion and expression of enzymes used by three species of fungus to degrade sugarcane. The species are called Trichoderma harzianum, T. reesei and T. atroviride.

All the fungi studied by the project are found growing in on materials like soil, wood, bark and even other fungi.

“We identified highly synergistic gene co-regulation networks involved in enzymatic degradation of sugarcane biomass by the three fungal species,” said Jaire Alves Ferreira Filho, who is studying for a PhD in genetics and molecular biology at UNICAMP and is one of the authors of the study.

The goal was to examine similarities and differences in the enzymes that may enhance or limit their efficiency in breaking down biomass, as well as whether they cooperate during this process.

To do this, the scientists first counted and analysed the proteins present in substrates at the height of enzyme activity, they then sequenced the enzymes’ RNA using a technique called RNA-seq. By comparing this data the team identified gene networks that could be essential for biomass breakdown.

“Our detailed description of these reactions will lead to significant advances. It provides a sound basis for the use of genetic information in the production of biofuels and countless biocompounds,” said Maria Augusta Crivelente Horta, first author of the article.

The study is called ‘Network of proteins, enzymes and genes linked to biomass degradation shared by Trichoderma species’ and was published in Scientific Reports.