In France, by studying a particular fungus, scientists in the EU-funded ZYBIOM project have discovered a family of enzymes that can double the amount of glucose extracted from wood. Although biofuels are the most immediate application, as their production from glucose is already well understood, the new enzymes could also have a part to play in the biorefining sector, which aims to replace oil-based products with materials derived from biomass.
During the three-year project, researchers at the National Institute of Agricultural Research (INRA) at Aix Marseille University in France, discovered a new class of enzymes that can break down more of the wood. They investigated a white-rot wood fungus known as Pycnoporus coccineus
The ZYBIOM scientists cultured the fungus in the presence of wood and analyzed the enzymes that appeared in the culture medium. Out of the large range of well-known enzymes, some proteins without any predicted function attracted their attention.
The laboratory results have yet to be scaled up to an industrial process but investigators have taken out patents on the new enzymes and negotiations are in progress on their commercialization.