Bioavailability of carbohydrate content in natural and transgenic switchgrasses for the extreme thermophile Caldicellulosiruptor bescii

Jeffrey V. Zurawski, Piyum A. Khatibi, Hannah O. Akinosho, Christopher T. Straub, Scott H. Compton, Jonathan M. Conway, Laura L. Lee, Arthur J. Ragauskas, Brian H. Davison, Michael W.W. Adams, Robert M. Kelly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Improving access to the carbohydrate content of lignocellulose is key to reducing recalcitrance for microbial deconstruction and conversion to fuels and chemicals. Caldicellulosiruptor bescii completely solubilizes naked microcrystalline cellulose, yet this transformation is impeded within the context of the plant cell wall by a network of lignin and hemicellulose. Here, the bioavailability of carbohydrates to C. bescii at 70°C was examined for reduced lignin transgenic switchgrass lines COMT3(+) and MYB Trans, their corresponding parental lines (cultivar Alamo) COMT3(+) and MYB wild type (WT), and the natural variant cultivar Cave-in-Rock (CR). Transgenic modification improved carbohydrate solubilization by C. bescii to 15% (2.3- fold) for MYB and to 36% (1.5-fold) for COMT, comparable to the levels achieved for the natural variant, CR (36%). Carbohydrate solubilization was nearly doubled after two consecutive microbial fermentations compared to one microbial step, but it never exceeded 50% overall. Hydrothermal treatment (180°C) prior to microbial steps improved solubilization 3.7-fold for the most recalcitrant line (MYB WT) and increased carbohydrate recovery to nearly 50% for the least recalcitrant lines [COMT3(+) and CR]. Alternating microbial and hydrothermal steps (T→M→T→M) further increased bioavailability, achieving carbohydrate solubilization ranging from 50% for MYB WT to above 70% for COMT3(+) and CR. Incomplete carbohydrate solubilization suggests that cellulose in the highly lignified residue was inaccessible; indeed, residue from the T→M→T→M treatment was primarily glucan and inert materials (lignin and ash). While C. bescii could significantly solubilize the transgenic switchgrass lines and natural variant tested here, additional or alternative strategies (physical, chemical, enzymatic, and/or genetic) are needed to eliminate recalcitrance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere00969-17
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Issue number17
StatePublished - Sep 1 2017
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Food Science
  • Biotechnology
  • Ecology


  • Caldicellulosiruptor
  • Extreme thermophiles
  • Lignocellulose
  • Lignocellulose deconstruction and conversion
  • Switchgrass


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