Cellobiohydrolase Hydrolyzes Crystalline Cellulose on Hydrophobic Faces

Yu San Liu, John O. Baker, Yining Zeng, Michael E. Himmel, Thomas Haas, Shi You Ding

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124 Scopus Citations


Biodegradation of plant biomass is a slow process in nature, and hydrolysis of cellulose is also widely considered to be a ratelimiting step in the proposed industrial process of converting lignocellulosic materials to biofuels. It is generally known that a team of enzymes including endo- and exocellulases as well as cellobiases are required to act synergistically to hydrolyze cellulose to glucose. The detailed molecular mechanisms of these enzymes have yet to be convincingly elucidated. In this report, atomic force microscopy (AFM) is used to image in real-time the structural changes in Valonia cellulose crystals acted upon by the exocellulase cellobiohydrolase I (CBH I) from Trichoderma reesei. Under AFM, single enzyme molecules could be observed binding only to one face of the cellulose crystal, apparently the hydrophobic face. The surface roughness of cellulose began increasing after adding CBH I, and the overall size of cellulose crystals decreased during an 11-h period. Interestingly, this size reduction apparently occurred only in the width of the crystal, whereas the height remained relatively constant. In addition, the measured cross-section shape of cellulose crystal changed from asymmetric to nearly symmetric. These observed changes brought about by CBH I action may constitute the first direct visualization supporting the idea that the exocellulase selectively hydrolyzes the hydrophobic faces of cellulose. The limited accessibility of the hydrophobic faces in native cellulose may contribute significantly to the rate-limiting slowness of cellulose hydrolysis.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)11195-11201
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number13
StatePublished - 2011

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-2700-50681


  • biofuels
  • biomass
  • lignocellulosic material


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