Enzymatic Production of Cellulosic Hydrogen by Cell-free Synthetic Pathway Biotransformation(SyPaB)

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Virginia Tech


The goals of this research were 1) to produce hydrogen in high yields from cellulosic materials and water by synthetic pathway biotranformation (SyPaB), and 2) to increase the hydrogen production rate to a level comparable to microbe-based methods (~ 5 mmol H2/L/h).

Cell-free SyPaB is a new biocatalysis technology that integrates a number of enzymatic reactions from four different metabolic pathways, e.g. glucan phosphorylation, pentose phosphate pathway, gluconeogenesis, and hydrogenase-catalyzed hydrogen production, so as to release 12 mol hydrogen per mol glucose equivalent. To ensure the artificial enzymatic pathway would work for hydrogen production, thermodynamic analysis was firstly conducted, suggesting that the artificial enzymatic pathway would spontaneously release hydrogen from cellulosic materials. A kinetic model was constructed to assess the rate-limited step(s) through metabolic control analysis. Three phosphorylases, i.e. α-glucan phosphorylase, cellobiose phosphorylase, and cellodextrin phosphorylase, were cloned from a thermophile Clostridium thermocellum, and heterologously expressed in Escherichia coli, purified and characterized in detail. Finally, up to 93% of hydrogen was produced from cellulosic materials (11.2 mol H2/mol glucose equivalent). A nearly 20-fold enhancement in hydrogen production rates has been achieved by increasing the rate-limiting hydrogenase concentration, increasing the substrate loading, and elevating the reaction temperature slightly from 30 to 32°C. The hydrogen production rates were higher than those of photobiological systems and comparable to the rates reported in dark fermentations.

Now the hydrogen production is limited by the low stabilities and low activities of various phosphorylases. Therefore, non-biologically based methods have been applied to prolong the stability of α-glucan phosphorylases. The catalytic potential of cellodextrin phosphorylase has been improved to degrade insoluble cellulose by fusion of a carbohydrate-binding module (CBM) family 9 from Thermotoga maritima Xyn10A. The inactivation halftime of C. thermocellum cellobiose phosphorylase has been enhanced by three-fold at 70°C via a combination of rational design and directed evolution. The phosphorylases with improved properties would work as building blocks for SyPaB and enabled large-scale enzymatic production of cellulosic hydrogen.



synthetic pathway biotranformation (SyPaB), rational design, protein engineering, phosphorylase, biofuel, directed evolution, hydrogen