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Nat Rev Microbiol. 2012 Jan 23;10(3):227-34. doi: 10.1038/nrmicro2729.

Genome analyses highlight the different biological roles of cellulases.

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Unité de Recherche sur Maladies Infectieuses et Tropicales Emergentes, Centre National de Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Institut de Recherche pour Développement, Faculté de Médecine, Aix-Marseille Université, 27 Bd Jean Moulin, 13005 Marseille, France.


Cellulolytic enzymes have been the subject of renewed interest owing to their potential role in the conversion of plant lignocellulose to sustainable biofuels. An analysis of ∼1,500 complete bacterial genomes, presented here, reveals that ∼40% of the genomes of sequenced bacteria encode at least one cellulase gene. Most of the bacteria that encode cellulases are soil and marine saprophytes, many of which encode a range of enzymes for cellulose hydrolysis and also for the breakdown of the other constituents of plant cell walls (hemicelluloses and pectins). Intriguingly, cellulases are present in organisms that are usually considered as non-saprophytic, such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Legionella pneumophila, Yersinia pestis and even Escherichia coli. We also discuss newly emerging roles of cellulases in such non-saprophytic organisms.

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