Dr. Tina Jeoh
Professor of Biological and Agricultural Engineering
University of California, Davis
Overcoming cellulose recalcitrance by understanding interfacial enzyme hydrolysis kinetics
Cellulose is a remarkable natural resource because of its vast abundance, its potential as a source of renewable glucose and its superior mechanical properties. A global pursuit of ‘advanced biofuels’, envisioning the conversion of cellulose in agricultural plant residues (lignocellulosic biomass) to renewable fuels, has been on-going for seven decades but has faced significant technoeconomic barriers. Cellulose, a homopolymer of glucose subunits, is compositionally simple but structurally complex due to its organization into highly organized, crystalline fibrils. Chemical and biochemical reactions with cellulose is limited to interfacial interactions. Our work at UC Davis pursues the understanding of cellulose properties limiting enzymatic interactions with cellulose. Cellulase enzymes targeting the glycosidic bonds of cellulose are limited by the availability and accessibility to ‘productive binding sites’ where enzymes can form active complexes. Enzymatic and chemical hydrolysis of cellulose depletes productive binding sites on the surface of cellulose. We have shown that the productive cellulase binding sites are the true substrates of cellulase enzymes, and that depletion of these sites (i.e. substrate depletion) stalls the reaction even when excess cellulose remains. Understanding structural and surface properties of cellulose limiting enzyme interaction kinetics will facilitate the engineering cost effective cellulose bioconversion processes.
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