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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2017 Aug 17;83(17). pii: e00969-17. doi: 10.1128/AEM.00969-17. Print 2017 Sep 1.

Bioavailability of Carbohydrate Content in Natural and Transgenic Switchgrasses for the Extreme Thermophile Caldicellulosiruptor bescii.

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Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA.
BioEnergy Science Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, USA.
Biosciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, USA.
Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Department of Forestry, Center for Renewable Carbon at Wildlife, and Fisheries, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA.
Renewable Bioproducts Institute, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
UT-ORNL Joint Institute for Biological Sciences, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, USA.
Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, USA.
Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA


Improving access to the carbohydrate content of lignocellulose is key to reducing recalcitrance for microbial deconstruction and conversion to fuels and chemicals. Caldicellulosiruptor bescii completely solubilizes naked microcrystalline cellulose, yet this transformation is impeded within the context of the plant cell wall by a network of lignin and hemicellulose. Here, the bioavailability of carbohydrates to C. bescii at 70°C was examined for reduced lignin transgenic switchgrass lines COMT3(+) and MYB Trans, their corresponding parental lines (cultivar Alamo) COMT3(-) and MYB wild type (WT), and the natural variant cultivar Cave-in-Rock (CR). Transgenic modification improved carbohydrate solubilization by C. bescii to 15% (2.3-fold) for MYB and to 36% (1.5-fold) for COMT, comparable to the levels achieved for the natural variant, CR (36%). Carbohydrate solubilization was nearly doubled after two consecutive microbial fermentations compared to one microbial step, but it never exceeded 50% overall. Hydrothermal treatment (180°C) prior to microbial steps improved solubilization 3.7-fold for the most recalcitrant line (MYB WT) and increased carbohydrate recovery to nearly 50% for the least recalcitrant lines [COMT3(+) and CR]. Alternating microbial and hydrothermal steps (T→M→T→M) further increased bioavailability, achieving carbohydrate solubilization ranging from 50% for MYB WT to above 70% for COMT3(+) and CR. Incomplete carbohydrate solubilization suggests that cellulose in the highly lignified residue was inaccessible; indeed, residue from the T→M→T→M treatment was primarily glucan and inert materials (lignin and ash). While C. bescii could significantly solubilize the transgenic switchgrass lines and natural variant tested here, additional or alternative strategies (physical, chemical, enzymatic, and/or genetic) are needed to eliminate recalcitrance.IMPORTANCE Key to a microbial process for solubilization of plant biomass is the organism's access to the carbohydrate content of lignocellulose. Economically viable routes will characteristically minimize physical, chemical, and biological pretreatment such that microbial steps contribute to the greatest extent possible. Recently, transgenic versions of plants and trees have been developed with the intention of lowering the barrier to lignocellulose conversion, with particular focus on lignin content and composition. Here, the extremely thermophilic bacterium Caldicellulosiruptor bescii was used to solubilize natural and genetically modified switchgrass lines, with and without the aid of hydrothermal treatment. For lignocellulose conversion, it is clear that the microorganism, plant biomass substrate, and processing steps must all be considered simultaneously to achieve optimal results. Whether switchgrass lines engineered for low lignin or natural variants with desirable properties are used, conversion will depend on microbial access to crystalline cellulose in the plant cell wall.


Caldicellulosiruptor; extreme thermophiles; lignocellulose; lignocellulose deconstruction and conversion; switchgrass

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