Discrete and Structurally Unique Proteins (Tapirins) Mediate Attachment of Extremely Thermophilic Caldicellulosiruptor Species to Cellulose

Petri Alahuhta, Vladimir Lunin, Michael Himmel, Blumer-Schuette SE, Conway JM, Lee LL, Zurawski JV, Giannone RJ, Hettich RL, Kelly RM

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A variety of catalytic and noncatalytic protein domains are deployed by select microorganisms to deconstruct lignocellulose. These extracellular proteins are used to attach to, modify, and hydrolyze the complex polysaccharides present in plant cell walls. Cellulolytic enzymes, often containing carbohydrate-binding modules, are key to this process; however, these enzymes are not solely responsible for attachment. Few mechanisms of attachment have been discovered among bacteria that do not form large polypeptide structures, called cellulosomes, to deconstruct biomass. In this study, bioinformatics and proteomics analyses identified unique, discrete, hypothetical proteins ('tapirins,' origin from Maori: to join), not directly associated with cellulases, that mediate attachment to cellulose by species in the noncellulosomal, extremely thermophilic bacterial genus Caldicellulosiruptor. Two tapirin genes are located directly downstream of a type IV pilus operon in strongly cellulolytic members of the genus, whereas homologs are absent from the weakly cellulolytic Caldicellulosiruptor species. Based on their amino acid sequence, tapirins are specific to these extreme thermophiles. Tapirins are also unusual in that they share no detectable protein domain signatures with known polysaccharide-binding proteins. Adsorption isotherm and trans vivo analyses demonstrated the carbohydrate-binding module-like affinity of the tapirins for cellulose. Crystallization of a cellulose-binding truncation from one tapirin indicated that these proteins form a long ..beta..-helix core with a shielded hydrophobic face. Furthermore, they are structurally unique and define a new class of polysaccharide adhesins. Strongly cellulolytic Caldicellulosiruptor species employ tapirins to complement substrate-binding proteins from the ATP-binding cassette transporters and multidomain extracellular and S-layer-associated glycoside hydrolases to process the carbohydrate content of lignocellulose.
Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)10645-10656
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number17
StatePublished - 2015

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-2700-64273


  • adhesin
  • bacteria
  • biodegradation
  • caldicellulosiruptor
  • cellulose
  • cellulose-binding protein
  • extreme thermophile
  • protein structure


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