Microbial transformation of plant polysaccharides; hyperthermophilic enzymes; conservation of antique manuscripts; history of microbiology
Microbial transformation of plant polysaccharides; hyperthermophilic enzymes; conservation of antique manuscripts; history of microbiologyThe central thrust of our research is to understand the role, mechanism and application of microbial polysaccharases. As cellulose and xylan form the world's major organic materials - both plant structural supports and potential energy resources - our focus is to characterize the multi-component cellulase and xylanase systems: from fungi (Trichoderma), thermophilic actinomycetes (Microbispora) and hyperthermophilic bacteria (Thermotoga). The polysaccharases are characterized from microbiological, biochemical and molecular biological perspectives. The cellulases of Thermotoga neapolitana are of interest for their thermal stability, acting optimally near the boiling point of water, and having extremely high specific activity - over 1000 for one carboxymethylcellulase as a substrate. In studying the transformation of xylan, we have recently uncovered a xylan utilization gene cluster from the ocean vent, hyperthermophile Thermotoga. Chitin is a further substrate of interest. We are also studying the polysaccharases from Yellowstone hyperthermophiles - Fervidobacterium. These fundamental studies of hyperthermophilic polysaccharases lead to a consideration of industrial applications, for instance the use of the stable, highly active T. neapolitana alpha-galactosidase to degrade the flatulence causing oligosaccharide present in soy products - of importance with regard to the feed of monogastric animals. Overall we consider that the recycling of biomass as an energy resource - its conversion to sugars and subsequent fermentation to alcohol as a transportation fuel - will help stabilize the Greenhouse effect through the recycling of carbon dioxide. Our studies yield basic understanding of this concept. Ironically, cellulolytic microbes are also a nuisance in promoting the deterioration of manuscripts, maps, paintings and are of particular concern in the destruction of antique artefacts. This aspect of cellulolysis is also being explored.