New knowledge about fungus can improve the production of bioethanol

Novozymes has participated in an extensive research project in collaboration with Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Joint Genome Institute at the US Department of Energy.

The results of the project, which have been published in the current issue of the respected journal Nature Biotechnology, may herald a breakthrough for the production of second-generation bioethanol.

The fungus in question – Tricoderma reesei – is particularly effective at digesting plant fibres into simple sugars, so-called monosaccharides. This digestion occurs through the action of the fungus’ own enzymes, which it secretes to breakdown plant fibres and convert them to simple sugars.

Mapping the fungus’ genome has made it possible to discover important information about the precise nature of the entire process.

The new genome map may open up new possibilities for the cheap and effective conversion into sugar of cellulosic biomass such as agricultural waste, wood chips, corn stover, and prairie grasses. The sugar can then be fermented into ethanol. Ethanol produced from waste products is a CO2-friendly alternative to gasoline.

”This is a significant step towards using renewable raw materials in the production of fuels and chemicals,” says Joel Cherry, Research Director for second-generation bioethanol at Novozymes in California.

”The information contained in this fungus genome will help us to understand much more profoundly why this organism is so effective at degrading cellulose, as well as why it is so phenomenal at producing the required enzymes. Using this information, we might be able to improve both of these characteristics, thereby reducing costs in the conversion of cellulosic biomass to bioethanol,” he explains.

Tricoderma reesei is not a completely unknown fungus. This hungry fungus was responsible for the rapid destruction of both tents and uniforms during World War II.