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Applied and Environmental Microbiology


Thayer School of Engineering


The economical production of fuels and commodity chemicals from lignocellulose requires the utilization of both the cellulose and hemicellulose fractions. Xylanase enzymes allow greater utilization of hemicellulose while also increasing cellulose hydrolysis. Recent metabolic engineering efforts have resulted in a strain of Thermoanaerobacterium saccharolyticum that can convert C5 and C6 sugars, as well as insoluble xylan, into ethanol at high yield. To better understand the process of xylan solubilization in this organism, a series of targeted deletions were constructed in the homoethanologenic T. saccharolyticum strain M0355 to characterize xylan hydrolysis and xylose utilization in this organism. While the deletion of -xylosidase xylD slowed the growth of T. saccharolyticum on birchwood xylan and led to an accumulation of short-chain xylo-oligomers, no other single deletion, including the deletion of the previously characterized endoxylanase XynA, had a phenotype distinct from that of the wild type.This result indicates a multiplicity of xylanase enzymes which facilitate xylan degradation in T. saccharolyticum. Growth on xylan was prevented only when a previously uncharacterized endoxylanase encoded by xynC was also deleted in conjunction with xynA. Sequence analysis of xynC indicates that this enzyme, a low-molecular-weight endoxylanase with homology to glycoside hydrolase family 11 enzymes, is secreted yet untethered to the cell wall. Together, these observations expand our understanding of the enzymatic basis of xylan hydrolysis by T. saccharolyticum.