The gribble, in fact, has three Family 7 enzymes, the workhorses of industrial enzyme cocktails. One of them, dubbed Cel7B, is the subject of the latest paper describing its crystal structure.
"There are striking differences between the gribble enzyme and those derived from the fungi," Beckham said. "We have some suggestions that those differences may teach us a few new tricks in engineering enzymes for enhanced performance in an industrial setting."
Enzyme Thrives in Super Salty Water
The researchers' tests of Cel7B found that it remained active at more than six times the salt concentration of the sea. It even became slightly more effective in its ability to degrade biomass as salt concentration increased, Beckham noted.
"For biomass conversion, industry wants to push up to very high solids, with very little water around. The gribble enzyme has evolved in a harsh, high-solids environment in the gribble gut, so it could very well thrive."
That's important to the bottom line because "the less water you have in the process, the smaller your reactor can be," Beckham said. The smaller the reactor, the more concentrated the sugar product is, and the more money can be saved in a biofuels production plant.
The authors of the scientific paper proposed that the enzyme can teach important things about engineering industrial enzymes for biomass conversion. The Cel7B enzyme may provide clues as to how to design particular features of enzymes for greater stability in industrial settings.
Learning How it Adapts
The work leading to the paper gave the scientists a better understanding of how the organism adapts and survives - and that will be very useful as research on the gribble continues.
The National Bioenergy Center and NREL's Biosciences Center were a natural fit for the project because among their most important missions is to design new and better enzymes.
Characterizing the gribble enzyme is crucial to understanding it. The knowledge acquired could help in the design of a better enzyme for degrading biomass, leading to a product that could better compete with petroleum.
Combining structural biology with molecular dynamics made it possible to characterize the enzyme at the molecular level, the researchers said. "They work really beautifully together because structural biology gives you a static picture, and molecular dynamics simulations can give you a dynamic picture," Beckham said.
Going forward, the researchers will use high performance computing to compare the gribble enzymes to similar enzymes from fungi. "We will be able to use what we learn to make better predictions about enzyme activity, whether the enzyme can be used directly in biomass conversion or can be modified to be more like fungal enzymes while retaining useful characteristics, such as the ability for some high-solids tolerance," Beckham said.
Learn more about the National Bioenergy Center (http://www.nrel.gov/biomass/national_bioenergy.html) and NREL's Biosciences Center (http://www.nrel.gov/energysciences/biosciences).
Most Popular Stories
- NSA Tracks 5 Billion Cellphone Records a Day
- W.H. Corrects Itself on Unclegate
- Pope Francis Says He'll Fight Child Sex Abuse
- Yemen Attack Kills 52
- Fast-Food Workers Want $15 an Hour
- Nelson Mandela Dead at 95
- Nelson Mandela Dies After Momentous Life
- Roybal-Allard Tours Gordon Brush Plant
- Twitter Names Woman to Board
- Aspen Contracting Adding 300 Jobs