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Curr Opin Biotechnol. 2008 Jun;19(3):210-7. doi: 10.1016/j.copbio.2008.04.007. Epub 2008 Jun 2.

Extremely thermophilic microorganisms for biomass conversion: status and prospects.

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Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695-7905, United States.


Many microorganisms that grow at elevated temperatures are able to utilize a variety of carbohydrates pertinent to the conversion of lignocellulosic biomass to bioenergy. The range of substrates utilized depends on growth temperature optimum and biotope. Hyperthermophilic marine archaea (T(opt)>or=80 degrees C) utilize alpha- and beta-linked glucans, such as starch, barley glucan, laminarin, and chitin, while hyperthermophilic marine bacteria (T(opt)>or=80 degrees C) utilize the same glucans as well as hemicellulose, such as xylans and mannans. However, none of these organisms are able to efficiently utilize crystalline cellulose. Among the thermophiles, this ability is limited to a few terrestrial bacteria with upper temperature limits for growth near 75 degrees C. Deconstruction of crystalline cellulose by these extreme thermophiles is achieved by 'free' primary cellulases, which are distinct from those typically associated with large multi-enzyme complexes known as cellulosomes. These primary cellulases also differ from the endoglucanases (referred to here as 'secondary cellulases') reported from marine hyperthermophiles that show only weak activity toward cellulose. Many extremely thermophilic enzymes implicated in the deconstruction of lignocellulose can be identified in genome sequences, and many more promising biocatalysts probably remain annotated as 'hypothetical proteins'. Characterization of these enzymes will require intensive effort but is likely to generate new opportunities for the use of renewable resources as biofuels.

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