Compost Microbes Adapted to Produce Switchgrass-Degrading Enzymes


By incubating switchgrass with a mix of microbes isolated from compost, JBEI researchers provided the selective pressure needed to grow a new microbial community enriched with enzymes that degrade cell-wall polymers specific to switchgrass. The sample was incubated in a bioreactor for 31 days under typical composting conditions. Metagenomic sequencing of the switchgrass-adapted compost (SAC) community on day 31 was carried out to investigate the sample’s diverse pool of glycoside hydrolases-enzymes that break bonds between carbohydrate molecules. The sample contained a high proportion of genes encoding enzymes that attack the branches and backbone of a major hemicellulose in grass cell walls. Analysis of the small-subunit ribosomal RNA (rRNA) isolated from the microbial community revealed dramatic changes in the community profile with more than a 20-fold increase for some bacterial populations in the SAC. Although metagenomic DNA sequence is highly fragmented, making isolation of full genes from complex communities difficult, two full-length genes for cellulose-degrading enzymes were discovered, synthesized, expressed in Escherichia coli, and tested for enzyme activity.


This research was reported in Allgaier, M., et al. 2010. “Targeted Discovery of Glycoside Hydrolases from a Switchgrass-Adapted Compost Community,” PLoS One 5(1), e8812.