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    The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
    • 2017-11-14 06:00:48
    • Article ID: 685131

    To Find New Biofuel Enzymes, It Can Take a Microbial Village

    Berkeley Lab-led study unveils new source of robust cellulases in compost

    • Credit: Steve Singer/JBEI

      This 50-milliliter flask contains a symbiotic mix of bacteria derived from compost that was maintained for three years.

    • Credit: Roy Kaltschmidt/Berkeley Lab

      A bioreactor at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts Process Demonstration Unit (ABPDU) was used to scale the growth of the mixture of bacteria from 50 milliliters to 300 liters.

    • Credit: Sebastian Kolinko/JBEI

      This chart shows the bacterial composition of the community in the bioreactor after two weeks of culturing.

    A new study led by researchers at the Department of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), based at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), demonstrates the importance of microbial communities as a source of stable enzymes that could be used to convert plants to biofuels.

    The study, recently published in the journal Nature Microbiology, reports on the discovery of new types of cellulases, enzymes that help break down plants into ingredients that can be used to make biofuels and bioproducts. The cellulases were cultured from a microbiome. Using a microbial community veers from the approach typically taken of using isolated organisms to obtain enzymes.

    The scientists first studied the microbial menagerie present in a few cups of municipal compost. Metagenomic analysis at the DOE Joint Genome Institute (JGI) of the microbiome helped reveal that 70 percent of the enzymatic activity originated from cellulases produced by a cluster of uncultivated bacteria in the compost. They found that the enzymes easily broke down the cellulose in plant biomass into glucose at temperatures up to 80 degrees Celsius.

    “Here we’re cultivating an entire community of microbes to access enzymes that we couldn’t get from isolates,” said study principal investigator Steve Singer, senior scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Biological Systems and Engineering Division and director of Microbial and Enzyme Discovery at JBEI. “Some microbes are difficult to culture in a lab. We are cultivating microbes living in communities, as they occur in the wild, which allows us to see things we don’t see when they are isolated. This opens up the opportunity to discover new types of enzymes that are only produced by microbes in communities.”

    The bacterial population, Candidatus Reconcilibacillus cellulovorans, yielded cellulases that were arranged in remarkably robust carbohydrate-protein complexes, a structure never before observed in isolates. The stability of the new cellulase complexes makes them attractive for applications in biofuels production, the study authors said.

    "The enzymes persist, even after a decline in bacterial abundance," said Singer, who compared the microbial community with sourdough starters fermented from wild yeast and friendly bacteria. "We kept the microbial community cultivation going for more than three years in the lab."

    This stability is a key advantage over other cellulases that degrade more rapidly at high temperature, the researchers said.

    To determine whether the enzyme production can be scalable for industrial applications, JBEI scientists collaborated with researchers from the Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts Process Demonstration Unit (ABPDU) at Berkeley Lab, a scale-up facility established by DOE to help accelerate the commercialization of biofuels research discoveries.

    Researchers at JBEI, a DOE Bioenergy Research Center, were able to produce 50-milliliter samples, but in about six weeks, the scientists at ABPDU scaled the cultures to a volume 6,000 times larger – 300 liters – in industrial bioreactors.

    The study's lead author is Sebastian Kolinko, who worked on the study as a JBEI postdoctoral researcher.

    Other co-authors on this study include researchers from Taipei Medical University, the University of Georgia, the Manheim University of Applied Sciences, and Technical University of Braunschweig in Germany.

    JGI is a DOE Office of Science User Facility. This work was primarily supported by the DOE Office of Science and the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

    ###

    Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory addresses the world’s most urgent scientific challenges by advancing sustainable energy, protecting human health, creating new materials, and revealing the origin and fate of the universe. Founded in 1931, Berkeley Lab’s scientific expertise has been recognized with 13 Nobel Prizes. The University of California manages Berkeley Lab for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. For more, visit www.lbl.gov.

    DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.

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    How Animals Use Their Tails to Swish and Swat Away Insects

    A new study shows how animals use their tails to keep mosquitoes at bay by combining a swish that blows away most of the biting bugs and a swat that kills the ones that get through.

    Missing gamma-ray blobs shed new light on dark matter, cosmic magnetism

    Scientists, including researchers from the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, have compiled the most detailed catalog of such blobs using eight years of data collected with the Large Area Telescope (LAT) on NASA's Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope. The blobs, including 19 gamma-ray sources that weren't known to be extended before, provide crucial information on how stars are born, how they die, and how galaxies spew out matter trillions of miles into space.

    Applying Auto Industry's Fuel-Efficiency Standards to Agriculture Could Net Billions in Corn Sector, Researchers Conclude

    Adopting benchmarks similar to the fuel-efficiency standards used by the auto industry in the production of fertilizer could yield $5-8 billion in economic benefits for the U.S. corn sector alone, researchers have concluded in a new analysis.

    Research on Light-Matter Interaction Could Lead to Improved Electronic and Optoelectronic Devices

    A paper published in Nature Communications by Sufei Shi, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at Rensselaer, increases our understanding of how light interacts with atomically thin semiconductors and creates unique excitonic complex particles, multiple electrons, and holes strongly bound together.

    Next-Gen Ultrafast Optical Fiber-Based Electron Gun to Reveal Atomic Motions During Transition State

    A new method enables researchers to directly observe and capture atomic motions at surfaces and interfaces in real time.

    Intense Microwave Pulse Ionizes Its Own Channel Through Plasma

    Researchers experimentally observed the ionization-induced channeling of an intense microwave beam propagating through a neutral gas (>103 Pa).

    Ancient Pigment Can Boost Energy Efficiency

    Egyptian blue, derived from calcium copper silicate, was routinely used on ancient depictions of gods and royalty. Previous studies have shown that when Egyptian blue absorbs visible light, it then emits light in the near-infrared range. Now a team led by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has confirmed the pigment's fluorescence can be 10 times stronger than previously thought.

    Expanding Fungal Diversity, One Cell at a Time

    Reported October 8, 2018, in Nature Microbiology, a team led by U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute researchers developed a pipeline to generate genomes from single cells of uncultivated fungi. The approach was tested on several uncultivated species representing early diverging fungi.

    Columbia Engineers Build Smallest Integrated Kerr Frequency Comb Generator

    Optical frequency combs can enable ultrafast processes in physics, biology, and chemistry, as well as improve communication and navigation, medical testing, and security. Columbia Engineers have built a Kerr frequency comb generator that, for the first time, integrates the laser with the microresonator, significantly shrinking the system's size and power requirements. They no longer need to connect separate devices using fiber--they can now integrate it all on compact and energy efficient photonic chips.

    Scientists Present New Clues to Cut Through the Mystery of Titan's Atmospheric Haze

    Experiments at Berkeley Lab helped scientists zero in on a low-temperature chemical mechanism that may help to explain the complex molecular compounds that make up the nitrogen-rich haze layer surrounding Titan, Saturn's largest moon.


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    Prototype Solar Energy, Battery Systems to Fuel Commercialization

    Designing, building and testing prototype systems that show how renewable energy can power devices, such as a weather and soil sensor station, can help bridge the gap between basic science research and commercialization.

    Argonne to Advance High Performance Computing in Manufacturing

    Argonne awarded funding to partner with Industry to advance the use of high performance computing in manufacturing.

    "Invisible Glass" Wins 2018 Create the Future Design Contest Grand Prize

    Scientists from the Center for Functional Nanomaterials developed a technique for making nonreflecting glass, silicon, and plastic surfaces.

    Missouri S&T researchers win multimillion dollar grant to build fast-charging stations for electric cars

    Researchers from Missouri S&T and three private companies will combine their expertise to create charging stations for electric vehicles that could charge a car in less than 10 minutes - matching the time it takes to fill up a conventional vehicle with gasoline."The big problem with electric vehicles is range, and it's not so much range as range anxiety.

    Making batteries store more energy, last longer

    A new solid polymer electrolyte may help make cell phone batteries store more energy and last longer.

    Three Brookhaven Lab Scientists Named Fellows of American Physical Society

    The American Physical Society (APS), the world's largest physics organization, has elected three scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory as 2018 APS fellows.

    Southern Research first to win accreditation under ISO 14034

    Southern Research has become the first organization in the United States to earn accreditation under ISO 14034, a new international standard for evaluating and verifying environmental technologies that was recently adopted by the American National Standards Institute.

    Kawtar Hafidi to head Physical Sciences and Engineering directorate at Argonne

    Physicist Kawtar Hafidi has been appointed Associate Laboratory Director, Physical Sciences and Engineering at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory.

    Argonne researchers honored by Energy Secretary's awards program

    A select group of researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory was recently recognized for their contributions to infrastructure security and nuclear nonproliferation at the Secretary's Honor Awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., on August 29.

    PPPL's Sam Cohen earns award at meeting of U.S. government-funded laboratories hosted by PPPL

    PPPL physicist Sam Cohen and a local company win a Federal Laboratory Consortium award for a rocket propulsion technology.


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    How to Make Soot and Stardust

    Scientists unlock mystery that could help reduce emissions of fine particles from combustion engines and other sources.

    Breaking the Symmetry Between Fundamental Forces

    Scientists improve our understanding of the relationship between fundamental forces by re-creating the earliest moments of the universe.

    Water Plays Unexpected Role in Forming Minerals

    Water molecules line up tiny particles to attach and form minerals; understanding how this happens impacts energy extraction and storage along with waste disposal.

    Heavy Particles Get Caught Up in the Flow

    First direct measurement show how heavy particles containing a charm quark get caught up in the flow of early universe particle soup.

    Seeing Between the Atoms

    New detector enables electron microscope imaging at record-breaking resolution.

    Scaling Up Single-Crystal Graphene

    New method can make films of atomically thin carbon that are over a foot long.

    Discovered: Optimal Magnetic Fields Suppress Instabilities in Tokamak Plasmas

    U.S. and Korean scientists show how to find and use beneficial 3-D field perturbations to stabilize dangerous edge-localized modes in plasma.

    New Electron Glasses Sharpen Our View of Atomic-Scale Features

    A new approach to atom probe tomography promises more precise and accurate measurements vital to semiconductors used in computers, lasers, detectors, and more.

    Getting an Up-Close, 3-D View of Gold Nanostars

    Scientists can now measure 3-D structures of tiny particles with properties that hold promise for advanced sensors and diagnostics.

    Small, Short-Lived Drops of Early Universe Matter

    Particle flow patterns suggest even small-scale collisions create drops of early universe quark-gluon plasma.


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