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Abstract

The technology is available to produce fuel ethanol from renewable lignocellulosic biomass. The current challenge is to assemble the various process options into a commercial venture and begin the task of incremental improvement. Current process designs for lignocellulose are far more complex than grain to ethanol processes. This complexity results in part from the complexity of the substrate and the biological limitations of the catalyst. Our work at the University of Florida has focused primarily on the genetic engineering of Enteric bacteria using genes encoding Zymomonasmobilis pyruvate decarboxylase and alcohol dehydrogenase. These two genes have been assembled into a portable ethanol production cassette, the PET operon, and integrated into the chromosome of Escherichia coli B for use with hemicellulose-derived syrups. The resulting strain, KO11, produces ethanol efficiently from all hexose and pentose sugars present in the polymers of hemicellulose. By using the same approach, we integrated the PET operon into the chromosome of Klebsiella oxytoca to produce strain P2 for use in the simultaneous saccharification and fermentation (SSF) process for cellulose. Strain P2 has the native ability to ferment cellobiose and cellotriose, eliminating the need for one class of cellulase enzymes. Recently, the ability to produce and secrete high levels of endoglucanase has also been added to strain P2, further reducing the requirement for fungal cellulase. The general approach for the genetic engineering of new biocatalysts using the PET operon has been most successful with Enteric bacteria but was also extended to Gram positive bacteria, which have other useful traits for lignocellulose conversion. Many opportunities remain for further improvements in these biocatalysts as we proceed toward the development of single organisms that can be used for the efficient fermentation of both hemicellulosic and cellulosic substrates.