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Metagenomic Discovery of Biomass-Degrading Genes and Genomes from Cow Rumen

Science  28 Jan 2011:
Vol. 331, Issue 6016, pp. 463-467
DOI: 10.1126/science.1200387

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Abstract

The paucity of enzymes that efficiently deconstruct plant polysaccharides represents a major bottleneck for industrial-scale conversion of cellulosic biomass into biofuels. Cow rumen microbes specialize in degradation of cellulosic plant material, but most members of this complex community resist cultivation. To characterize biomass-degrading genes and genomes, we sequenced and analyzed 268 gigabases of metagenomic DNA from microbes adherent to plant fiber incubated in cow rumen. From these data, we identified 27,755 putative carbohydrate-active genes and expressed 90 candidate proteins, of which 57% were enzymatically active against cellulosic substrates. We also assembled 15 uncultured microbial genomes, which were validated by complementary methods including single-cell genome sequencing. These data sets provide a substantially expanded catalog of genes and genomes participating in the deconstruction of cellulosic biomass.

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