Bioprospecting metagenomes: Glycosyl hydrolases for converting biomass

Biology Department, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Upton, New York 11973, USA.
Biotechnology for Biofuels (Impact Factor: 6.04). 06/2009; 2(1):10. DOI: 10.1186/1754-6834-2-10
Source: PubMed


Throughout immeasurable time, microorganisms evolved and accumulated remarkable physiological and functional heterogeneity, and now constitute the major reserve for genetic diversity on earth. Using metagenomics, namely genetic material recovered directly from environmental samples, this biogenetic diversification can be accessed without the need to cultivate cells. Accordingly, microbial communities and their metagenomes, isolated from biotopes with high turnover rates of recalcitrant biomass, such as lignocellulosic plant cell walls, have become a major resource for bioprospecting; furthermore, this material is a major asset in the search for new biocatalytics (enzymes) for various industrial processes, including the production of biofuels from plant feedstocks. However, despite the contributions from metagenomics technologies consequent upon the discovery of novel enzymes, this relatively new enterprise requires major improvements. In this review, we compare function-based metagenome screening and sequence-based metagenome data mining, discussing the advantages and limitations of both methods. We also describe the unusual enzymes discovered via metagenomics approaches, and discuss the future prospects for metagenome technologies.

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