Dramatic Performance of Clostridium thermocellum Explained by its Wide Range of Cellulase Modalities

Qi Xu, Michael G. Resch, Kara Podkaminer, Shihui Yang, John O. Baker, Bryon S. Donohoe, Charlotte Wilson, Dawn M. Klingeman, Daniel G. Olson, Stephen R. Decker, Richard J. Giannone, Robert L. Hettich, Steven D. Brown, Lee R. Lynd, Edward A. Bayer, Michael E. Himmel, Yannick J. Bomble

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

93 Scopus Citations


Clostridium thermocellum is the most efficient microorganism for solubilizing lignocellulosic biomass known to date. Its high cellulose digestion capability is attributed to efficient cellulases consisting of both a free-enzyme system and a tethered cellulosomal system wherein carbohydrate active enzymes (CAZymes) are organized by primary and secondary scaffoldin proteins to generate large protein complexes attached to the bacterial cell wall. This study demonstrates that C. thermocellum also uses a type of cellulosomal system not bound to the bacterial cell wall, called the "cell-free" cellulosomal system. The cell-free cellulosome complex can be seen as a "long range cellulosome" because it can diffuse away from the cell and degrade polysaccharide substrates remotely from the bacterial cell. The contribution of these two types of cellulosomal systems in C. thermocellum was elucidated by characterization of mutants with different combinations of scaffoldin gene deletions. The primary scaffoldin, CipA, was found to play the most important role in cellulose degradation by C. thermocellum, whereas the secondary scaffoldins have less important roles. Additionally, the distinct and efficient mode of action of the C. thermocellum exoproteome, wherein the cellulosomes splay or divide biomass particles, changes when either the primary or secondary scaffolds are removed, showing that the intact wild-type cellulosomal system is necessary for this essential mode of action. This new transcriptional and proteomic evidence shows that a functional primary scaffoldin plays a more important role compared to secondary scaffoldins in the proper regulation of CAZyme genes, cellodextrin transport, and other cellular functions.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere1501254
Number of pages12
JournalScience Advances
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 The Authors.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-2700-65384


  • biofuels
  • biomass
  • cell biology
  • cellulases
  • cellulosomes


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