The conventional biochemical platform featuring enzymatic hydrolysis involves five key steps: pretreatment, cellulase production, enzymatic hydrolysis, fermentation, and product recovery. Sugars are produced as reactive intermediates for subsequent fermentation to fuels and chemicals. Herein, an alternative biochemical route is proposed. Pretreatment, enzymatic hydrolysis and cellulase production is consolidated into one single step, referred to as consolidated aerobic processing, and sugar aldonates are produced as the reactive intermediates for biofuels production by fermentation. In this study, we demonstrate the viability of consolidation of the enzymatic hydrolysis and cellulase production steps in the new route using Neurospora crassa as the model microorganism and the conversion of cellulose to ethanol as the model system. We intended to prove the two hypotheses: 1) cellulose can be directed to produce cellobionate by reducing β-glucosidase production and by enhancing cellobiose dehydrogenase production; and 2) both of the two hydrolysis products of cellobionate-glucose and gluconate-can be used as carbon sources for ethanol and other chemical production. Our results showed that knocking out multiple copies of β-glucosidase genes led to cellobionate production from cellulose, without jeopardizing the cellulose hydrolysis rate. Simulating cellobiose dehydrogenase over-expression by addition of exogenous cellobiose dehydrogenase led to more cellobionate production. Both of the two hydrolysis products of cellobionate: glucose and gluconate can be used by Escherichia coli KO 11 for efficient ethanol production. They were utilized simultaneously in glucose and gluconate co-fermentation. Gluconate was used even faster than glucose. The results support the viability of the two hypotheses that lay the foundation for the proposed new route.
This article was published online in PLoS ONE and is free to access.