U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

BER Research Highlights


Microbes Stress Out During Conversion of Pretreated Biomass to Biofuels
Published: March 02, 2012
Posted: May 08, 2012

Chemical pretreatment of plant biomass prior to enzymatic breakdown significantly improves the release of sugar molecules, which are subsequently converted to biofuel compounds by fermentative microbes. However, pretreatment also introduces a variety of stress factors that can interfere with these fermentative organisms, including residual chemicals, toxins released from the biomass, high concentrations of sugars, and production of biofuels themselves. Researchers at the DOE Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) describe the integration of gene expression and physiological stress responses in an ethanol-producing strain of Escherichia coli during growth on corn stover that had been pretreated using ammonia fiber expansion (AFEX) and enzymatic digestion. Their results indicate that osmotic pressure resulting from high sugar concentrations and toxicity due to ethanol production were the two most important stressors to E. coli under these conditions, and that the cells activated a cascade of carefully timed stress tolerance pathways in response to these factors. Identification of these pathways provides new targets for metabolic engineering to improve stress tolerances of biofuel-producing microbes, leading to the development of more sophisticated approaches to leverage microbes' natural abilities to sense and respond to environmental stress.

Reference: Swalbach, M. S., et al. 2012. "Complex Physiology and Compound Stress Responses during Fermentation of Alkali-Pretreated Corn Stover Hydrolysate by an Escherichia coli Ethanologen," Applied and Environmental Microbiology 78, 3442-57, DOI: 10.1128/AEM.07329-11. (Reference link)

Contact: Joseph Graber, SC-23.2, (301) 903-1239
Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Genomic Analysis and Systems Biology
  • Research Area: Microbes and Communities
  • Research Area: Plant Systems and Feedstocks, Plant-Microbe Interactions
  • Research Area: Sustainable Biofuels and Bioproducts
  • Research Area: DOE Bioenergy Research Centers (BRC)
  • Research Area: Biosystems Design

Division: SC-23.2 Biological Systems Science Division, BER

 

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