A study published in mBio this week reveals a novel system for turning plant materials into biofuels using a designer cellulosome, an enzyme complex that is like the fantasy football team of biological processes.
Consider the similarities: in fantasy football, participants assemble virtual dream teams of players from the NFL, select their starting players for each position every week, then track their statistics during the season to see whose fantasy team comes out on top. In a designer cellulosome, scientists assemble selected enzymes to carry out specific jobs and precision-engineer the architecture to do the job efficiently. The difference from fantasy football is synergy: a fantasy football team is only as good as the sum of its members, but a designer cellulosome juxtaposes the necessary enzymes to complete a particular process and allows the members to do their jobs more efficiently than if they were separate.
The cellulosome that Moraïs et al. have cooked up exhibits this synergy nicely. The cellulosome joins two cellulases and two xylanases together, and head-to-head comparisons of their four-unit cellulosome against free enzymes show that the cellulosome enhances breakdown of the cellulose by about 2.4 fold. The authors argue that designer cellulosomes like theirs may offer a way to improve the efficiency of extracting biofuels from plant-derived carbohydrate, which is notoriously resistant to degradation by free enzymes.