Deconstruction of plant biomass by a Cellulomonas strain isolated from an ultra-basic (lignin-stripping) spring.


Earth and Environmental Sciences Area, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, USA. [Email]


Plant material falling into the ultra-basic (pH 11.5-11.9) springs within The Cedars, an actively serpentinizing site in Sonoma County, California, is subject to conditions that mimic the industrial pretreatment of lignocellulosic biomass for biofuel production. We sought to obtain hemicellulolytic/cellulolytic bacteria from The Cedars springs that are capable of withstanding the extreme alkaline conditions wherein calcium hydroxide-rich water removes lignin, making cell wall polysaccharides more accessible to microorganisms and their enzymes. We enriched for such bacteria by adding plant debris from the springs into a synthetic alkaline medium with ground tissue of the biofuel crop switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) as the sole source of carbon. From the enrichment culture we isolated the facultative anaerobic bacterium Cellulomonas sp. strain FA1 (NBRC 114238), which tolerates high pH and catabolizes the major plant cell wall-associated polysaccharides cellulose, pectin, and hemicellulose. Strain FA1 in monoculture colonized the plant material and degraded switchgrass at a faster rate than the community from which it was derived. Cells of strain FA1 could be acclimated through subculturing to grow at a maximal concentration of 13.4% ethanol. A strain FA1-encoded β-1, 4-endoxylanase expressed in E. coli was active at a broad pH range, displaying near maximal activity at pH 6-9. Discovery of this bacterium illustrates the value of extreme alkaline springs in the search for microorganisms with potential for consolidated bioprocessing of plant biomass to biofuels and other valuable bio-inspired products.


Biofuel,Bioprospecting,Endoxylanase,Lignocellulose degradation,Serpentinization,

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