In Canada, research carried out by teams at the Universities of Warwick and British Columbia have identified an lignin-breaking enzyme in bacteria which could be used to make biofuel production more efficient. The research is to be published in the 14 June Issue of the American Chemical Society journal Biochemistry.
The researchers identified the gene for breaking down lignin in a soil-living bacterium called Rhodococcus jostii. Although such enzymes have been found before in fungi, this is the first time that they have been identified in bacteria.
The bacterium’s genome has already been sequenced which means that it could be modified more easily to produce large amounts of the required enzyme. In addition, bacteria are quick and easy to grow, so this research raises the prospect of producing enzymes which can break down lignin, on an industrial scale.
The team at Warwick have been collaborating with colleagues in Canada at the University of British Columbia who have been working to unravel the structure of the enzyme. They hope next to find similar enzymes in bacteria which live in very hot environments such as near volcanic vents. Enzymes in these bacteria have evolved to work best at high temperatures meaning they are ideally suited to be used in industrial processes.
More background on the story from the Digest