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The microbial production of ethanol from lignocellulosic biomass is a multi-component process that involves biomass hydrolysis, carbohydrate transport and utilization, and finally, the production of ethanol. Strains of the genus Thermoanaerobacter have been studied for decades due to their innate abilities to produce comparatively high ethanol yields from hemicellulose constituent sugars. However, their inability to hydrolyze cellulose, limits their usefulness in lignocellulosic biofuel production. As such, co-culturing Thermoanaerobacter spp. with cellulolytic organisms is a plausible approach to improving lignocellulose conversion efficiencies and yields of biofuels. To evaluate native lignocellulosic ethanol production capacities relative to competing fermentative end-products, comparative genomic analysis of 11 sequenced Thermoanaerobacter strains, including a de novo genome, Thermoanaerobacter thermohydrosulfuricus WC1, was conducted. Analysis was specifically focused on the genomic potential for each strain to address all aspects of ethanol production mentioned through a consolidated bioprocessing approach. Whole genome functional annotation analysis identified three distinct clades within the genus. The genomes of Clade 1 strains encode the fewest extracellular carbohydrate active enzymes and also show the least diversity in terms of lignocellulose relevant carbohydrate utilization pathways. However, these same strains reportedly are capable of directing a higher proportion of their total carbon flux towards ethanol, rather than non-biofuel end-products, than other Thermoanaerobacter strains. Strains in Clade 2 show the greatest diversity in terms of lignocellulose hydrolysis and utilization, but proportionately produce more non-ethanol end-products than Clade 1 strains. Strains in Clade 3, in which T. thermohydrosulfuricus WC1 is included, show mid-range potential for lignocellulose hydrolysis and utilization, but also exhibit extensive divergence from both Clade 1 and Clade 2 strains in terms of cellular energetics. The potential implications regarding strain selection and suitability for industrial ethanol production through a consolidated bioprocessing co-culturing approach are examined throughout the manuscript.

Citation

Tobin J Verbeke, Xiangli Zhang, Bernard Henrissat, Vic Spicer, Thomas Rydzak, Oleg V Krokhin, Brian Fristensky, David B Levin, Richard Sparling. Genomic evaluation of Thermoanaerobacter spp. for the construction of designer co-cultures to improve lignocellulosic biofuel production. PloS one. 2013;8(3):e59362

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PMID: 23555660

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