Fungal Enzymes Can Convert Wood Biomass into Valuable Chemical Commodities

Monday, February 19, 2018 - 11:57

Scientists from the University of York, has discovered a set of enzymes found in fungi that are capable of breaking down one of the main components of wood.

The enzymes could potentially be used to sustainably convert wood biomass into valuable chemical commodities such as biofuels, york.ac.uk reports.

As an alternative to coal and oil, wood is increasingly one of the more promising sources of advanced biofuels. However, despite its potential, it is a difficult material to breakdown.

Current wood biorefineries have to use pre-treatment processes, making the conversion of wood into fuels and products expensive and energy-consuming.

Co-author of the paper, Professor Paul Walton from the Department of Chemistry at the University of York said: “Back in 2010 we made the key discovery that a group of enzymes found in fungi, contain copper – these enzymes are now known to be an important component in the decomposition of biomass by biology. This research builds on that work by identifying further enzymes from this class which have the ability to break down wood’s challenging molecular structure.

“These enzymes may underpin the development of improved enzyme cocktails for biorefinery applications using wood – unlocking its conversion into a wide-range of valuable commodities in a sustainable way.”

The research, reported in Nature Chemical Biology, has shown that the family of enzymes, called lytic polysaccharide monooxygenases (LPMOs), are capable of breaking down xylans – carbohydrate molecules commonly found in wood biomass that are particularly resistant to degradation.

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