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Biochem J. 1999 Jun 15;340 ( Pt 3):829-35.

Digestion of crystalline cellulose substrates by the clostridium thermocellum cellulosome: structural and morphological aspects.

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  • 1Centre de Recherches sur les Macromolécules Végétales, CERMAV-CNRS, BP 53, 38041 Grenoble Cedex 9, France.


The action of cellulosomes from Clostridium thermocellum on model cellulose microfibrils from Acetobacter xylinum and cellulose microcrystals from Valonia ventricosa was investigated. The biodegradation of these substrates was followed by transmission electron microscopy, Fourier-transform IR spectroscopy and X-ray diffraction analysis, as a function of the extent of degradation. The cellulosomes were very effective in catalysing the complete digestion of bacterial cellulose, but the total degradation of Valonia microcrystals was achieved more slowly. Ultrastructural observations during the digestion process suggested that the rapid degradation of bacterial cellulose was the result of a very efficient synergistic action of the various enzymic components that are attached to the scaffolding protein of the cellulosomes. The degraded Valonia sample assumed various shapes, ranging from thinned-down microcrystals to crystals where one end was pointed and the other intact. This complexity may be correlated with the multi-enzyme content of the cellulosomes and possibly to a diversity of the cellulosome composition within a given batch. Another aspect of the digestion of model celluloses by cellulosomes is the relative invariability of their crystallinity, together with their Ialpha/Ibeta composition throughout the degradation process. Comparison of the action of cellulosomes with that of fungal enzymes indicated that the degradation of cellulose crystals by cellulosomes occurred with only limited levels of processivity, in contrast with the observations reported for fungal enzymes. The findings were consistent with a mechanism whereby initial attack by a cellulosome of an individual cellulose crystal results in its 'commitment' towards complete degradation.

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