Researchers working with the US Department of Energy recently isolated a salt-tolerant enzyme from the Great Salt Lake that they say is the missing piece in the biofuel refining process. The team of researchers has been working with ionic liquids, which are liquid forms of salt, to effectively break down the lignin in non-food derived biofuel — or lignocellulosic biomass — which is generally made up of agriculture waste, corn husks, sugar cane, pine needles, and other inedible plant matter. Until now, ionic liquids have been efficient at breaking down lignin in the plant matter but they were unable to unlock the sugars needed to produce biofuel – this new Great Salt Lake enzyme may well serve as the missing piece in the puzzle.
Up until now, researchers didn’t have an enzyme capable of unlocking sugars in biomass that could also withstand the presence of salt and high temperatures. The Great Salt Lake is an obvious place to look for such an enzyme — researchers were able to isolate one from the Halorhabdus utahensis microbe and then clone it in their laboratory. “This is one of the only reports of salt-tolerant cellulases, and the only one that represents a true ‘genome-to-function’ relevant to ionic liquids from a halophilic environment,” said Vice-President of the JBEI Deconstruction Division, Blake Simmons, in the study.
“This project has established a very important link between genomic science and the realization of enzymes that can handle very demanding chemical environments, such as those present in a biorefinery,” noted Simmons. The research was conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Joint Genome Institute (JGI) and the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) at DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory with assistance from Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. The researchers involved in the study believe that with further experimentation this could lead to an efficient and effective biorefinery process that unlocks biofuel from plant matter.
Via Science Daily