Open Access Research

Evaluation of the bioconversion of genetically modified switchgrass using simultaneous saccharification and fermentation and a consolidated bioprocessing approach

Kelsey L Yee12, Miguel Rodriguez Jr12, Timothy J Tschaplinski12, Nancy L Engle12, Madhavi Z Martin1, Chunxiang Fu3, Zeng-Yu Wang23, Scott D Hamilton-Brehm12 and Jonathan R Mielenz12*

Author Affiliations

1 Biosciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN, 37831-6226, USA

2 BioEnergy Science Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN, 37831-6226, USA

3 Forage Improvement Division, The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, Ardmore, OK, 73401, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

Biotechnology for Biofuels 2012, 5:81  doi:10.1186/1754-6834-5-81

Published: 12 November 2012

Abstract

Background

The inherent recalcitrance of lignocellulosic biomass is one of the major economic hurdles for the production of fuels and chemicals from biomass. Additionally, lignin is recognized as having a negative impact on enzymatic hydrolysis of biomass, and as a result much interest has been placed on modifying the lignin pathway to improve bioconversion of lignocellulosic feedstocks.

Results

Down-regulation of the caffeic acid 3-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene in the lignin pathway yielded switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) that was more susceptible to bioconversion after dilute acid pretreatment. Here we examined the response of these plant lines to milder pretreatment conditions with yeast-based simultaneous saccharification and fermentation and a consolidated bioprocessing approach using Clostridium thermocellum, Caldicellulosiruptor bescii and Caldicellulosiruptor obsidiansis. Unlike the S. cerevisiae SSF conversions, fermentations of pretreated transgenic switchgrass with C. thermocellum showed an apparent inhibition of fermentation not observed in the wild-type switchgrass. This inhibition can be eliminated by hot water extraction of the pretreated biomass, which resulted in superior conversion yield with transgenic versus wild-type switchgrass for C. thermocellum, exceeding the yeast-based SSF yield. Further fermentation evaluation of the transgenic switchgrass indicated differential inhibition for the Caldicellulosiruptor sp. strains, which could not be rectified by additional processing conditions. Gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC-MS) metabolite profiling was used to examine the fermentation broth to elucidate the relative abundance of lignin derived aromatic compounds. The types and abundance of fermentation-derived-lignin constituents varied between C. thermocellum and each of the Caldicellulosiruptor sp. strains.

Conclusions

The down-regulation of the COMT gene improves the bioconversion of switchgrass relative to the wild-type regardless of the pretreatment condition or fermentation microorganism. However, bacterial fermentations demonstrated strain-dependent sensitivity to the COMT transgenic biomass, likely due to additional soluble lignin pathway-derived constituents resulting from the COMT gene disruption. Removal of these inhibitory constituents permitted completion of fermentation by C. thermocellum, but not by the Caldicellulosiruptor sp. strains. The reason for this difference in performance is currently unknown.

Keywords:
Transgenic; Switchgrass; Fermentation; Consolidated bioprocessing; Saccharomyces cerevisiae; Clostridium thermocellum; Caldicellulosiruptor obsidiansis; Caldicellulosiruptor bescii