Gregg Beckham - NREL Thermal Biology Seminar Series
- Monday, October 23, 2017 from 3:10pm to 4:00pm
- Plant Biosciences Building, 108 - view map
Deconstructing plants and plastics with novel enzymes and microbes
Gregg T. Beckham, Group Leader, National Renewable Energy Laboratory
The vast diversity of microbes and enzymes in nature represents a rich source of biocatalysts to enable a more sustainable future for the planet and humanity. Our group focuses on the development of both microbes and enzymes (along with industrial processes) for the depolymerization and upgrading of the renewable, plant polymers, cellulose and lignin, as well as man-made plastics to bio-based chemicals and materials.
The first part of this talk will highlight recent work on the primary enzymes responsible for cellulose breakdown in nature, namely fungal cellulases. Our group has combined experimental and theoretical approaches to identify opportunities for engineering these key industrial enzymes for higher activity by surveying the known natural diversity of cellulases.
The second part of the talk will focus on lignin, which a heterogeneous aromatic polymer in plants for pathogen defense, structure, and water transport. Lignin is typically not converted to value-added molecules, but is rather slated for heat and power in biorefineries. The primary reason for this barrier stems from the ability to deal with the intrinsic heterogeneity and recalcitrance of lignin. Our group has recently proposed a biological funneling approach that hinges on the use of aromatic catabolic soil microbes and may enable the ability to overcome these intrinsic problems with lignin conversion.
Time permitting, the last part of the talk will focus on the enzymatic and microbial conversion of synthetic plastics, which represent a growing environmental crisis for the planet, especially in marine environments. Recent discoveries of bacterial systems able to grow on man-made plastics offer a foothold for synthetic and systems biology to offer solutions for efficient biological upcycling of waste plastic.
- Thermal Biology Institute