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New corners elusive biofuels enzyme

One of the most sought-after of those specialty enzymes may now be easier for today's researchers to find. That's thanks to an assay created by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) chemist Charles C. Lee and colleagues at the agency's Western Regional Research Center in Albany, Calif.

High-speed and high-tech, but surprisingly affordable, the sophisticated assay equips scientists with a faster, less expensive way to discover genes that enable microbes to make an enzyme known as an alpha-glucuronidase. In nature, this enzyme cleaves glucuronic acid from hemicellulose and, in so doing, helps disassemble plant cell walls. Hemicellulose, cellulose and lignin are bound in a tight, complicated matrix that impedes other enzymes' ready access to the cellulosic sugars that are ideal for fermenting into bioethanol.

The new assay, however, may change that by making it possible for scientists to quickly screen the genes in masses of anonymous microbes taken from the forest floor, compost heaps, or other outdoor places where decomposers live and work.

by S. C.
30 june 2009, Technical Area > Science News