Fungi Hold Secret to Wood-based Advanced Biofuels

A team of researchers at the University of York have discovered a set of enzymes in fungi that could help make wood an even more promising source for advanced biofuels. The fungi enzymes help break down one of the main components of wood.

Cheaper and more energy-efficient

Currently, wood biorefineries use a pre-treatment process to help break down wood and convert it into fuels and other products, but the process is expensive and requires high amounts of energy. But looking to fungi, the researchers studied the mechanisms by which the process takes place in nature. 

Working in collaboration with French researchers from the Le Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) Marseille, the researchers isolated the enzymes from fungi that play a vital role in the terrestrial carbon cycle and dominate wood decomposition in forests.

They discovered that a family of enzymes, called lytic polysaccharide monooxygenases (LPMOs), can break down xylans, the carbohydrate molecules commonly found in wood biomass that resists degradation.

The researchers say that their work unlocks the key scientific challenge of converting wood into biofuel in an environmental and cost-effective manner, and thus represents a significant step towards sustainability.

To learn more about this work, see the researchers’ published findings in Nature Chemical Biology.