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Keywords:

  • Biofuels;
  • Biodiversity;
  • Sustainable energy sources;
  • Cellulose degradation;
  • Cellulolytic organisms;
  • Cellulases

Abstract

Industrial production of solvents such as EtOH and BuOH from cellulosic biomass has the potential to provide a sustainable energy source that is relatively cheap, abundant, and environmentally sound, but currently production costs are driven up by expensive enzymes, which are necessary to degrade cellulose into fermentable sugars. These costs could be significantly reduced if a microorganism could be engineered to efficiently and quickly convert cellulosic biomass directly to product in a one-step process. There is a large amount of biodiversity in the number of existing microorganisms that naturally possess the enzymes necessary to convert cellulose to usable sugars, and many of these microorganisms can directly ferment sugars to EtOH or other solvents. Currently, the vast majority of cellulolytic organisms are poorly understood and have complex metabolic networks. In this review, we survey the current state of knowledge on different cellulases and metabolic capabilities found in various cellulolytic microorganisms. We also propose that the use of large-scale metabolic models (and associated analyses) is potentially an ideal means for improving our understanding of basic metabolic network function and directing metabolic engineering efforts for cellulolytic microorganisms.