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Publication Title

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America


Thayer School of Engineering


The bioenergetics of cellulose utilization by Clostridium thermocellum was investigated. Cell yield and maintenance parameters, Y(X/ATP)True = 16.44 g cell/mol ATP and m = 3.27 mmol ATP/g cell per hour, were obtained from cellobiose-grown chemostats, and it was shown that one ATP is required per glucan transported. Experimentally determined values for G(ATP)P-T (ATP from phosphorolytic beta-glucan cleavage minus ATP for substrate transport, mol ATP/mol hexose) from chemostats fed beta-glucans with degree of polymerization (DP) 2-6 agreed well with the predicted value of (n-2)/n [corrected] (n = mean cellodextrin DP assimilated). A mean G(ATP)(P-T) value of 0.52 +/- 0.06 was calculated for cellulose-grown chemostat cultures, corresponding to n = 4.20 +/- 0.46. Determination of intracellular beta-glucan radioactivity resulting from 14C-labeled substrates showed that uptake is different for cellulose and cellobiose (G2). For 14C-cellobiose, radioactivity was greatest for G2; substantially smaller but measurable for G1, G3, and G4; undetectable for G5 and G6; and n was approximately 2. For 14C-cellulose, radioactivity was greatest for G5; lower but substantial for G6, G2, and G1; very low for G3 and G4; and n was approximately 4. These results indicate that: (i) C. thermocellum hydrolyzes cellulose by a different mode of action from the classical mechanism involving solubilization by cellobiohydrolase; (ii) bioenergetic benefits specific to growth on cellulose are realized, resulting from the efficiency of oligosaccharide uptake combined with intracellular phosphorolytic cleavage of beta-glucosidic bonds; and (iii) these benefits exceed the bioenergetic cost of cellulase synthesis, supporting the feasibility of anaerobic biotechnological processing of cellulosic biomass without added saccharolytic enzymes.



Original Citation

Zhang YH, Lynd LR. Cellulose utilization by Clostridium thermocellum: bioenergetics and hydrolysis product assimilation. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 May 17;102(20):7321-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0408734102. Epub 2005 May 9. Erratum in: Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Jun 28;102(26):9430. PMID: 15883376; PMCID: PMC1129095.