Research Group


Prof. Yuval Shoham (Head), Prof. Oded Beja, Dr. Roee Amit, Prof. Roy Kishony

Weizmann Institute:

Prof. Ed Bayer (Head), Prof. Naama Barkai, Dr. Ilana Kolodkin-Gal



This group is researching the use of novel microbial and enzymatic systems for the efficient hydrolysis of biomass to soluble sugars en route to biofuels, e.g., ethanol.


Scientific Background

The main scientific challenge in transforming biomass to liquid fuel is the efficient (economic) degradation of plant matter, in particular cellulose, to soluble sugars that can be fermented to liquid biofuels. Despite the substantial resources allocated for this goal, the development of novel enzymatic or microbial systems for hydrolyzing biomass has been somewhat slow. The main barrier to biomass degradation is the inherent recalcitrance of the cellulosic substrates, and the major bottleneck in this process is the current high cost of cellulolytic enzyme production. Three-dimensional structure determination of these enzymes, together with extensive biochemical analysis, will provide functional information for an in-depth understanding of the mechanism(s) of catalysis. It is clear that this challenge also requires a combination of "omic" and synthetic approaches that will help to improve enzyme performance.



The strategic objective of this project is to design enzymatic and microbial systems with improved functionalities that will facilitate economical conversion of biomass into soluble sugars for yeast-mediated production of bioethanol.


The specific objectives are:

(1) To elucidate structure-function relationships of selected carbohydrate active enzymes that synergistically deconstruct cellulose and associated polysaccharides into soluble sugars

(2) To explore natural microbial systems involved in biomass degradation

(3) To isolate and characterize novel biomass-degrading enzymes from nature by using metagenomic approaches

(4) To utilize cocktails of these enzymes, cellulosomes and designer cellulosomes for biomass conversion

(5) To apply directed evolution and genetic engineering approaches for new types of biomass-degrading enzymes

(6) To develop yeast optimized for biofuel production through pulling from natural biodiversity, by using genetics, genomics, and genetically engineered Saccharomyces cerevisiae cells.


Expected Results

(1) Novel enzymes and enzyme complexes geared for efficient biomass degradation

(2) Insights into the microbial relationships in natural microbial systems involved in biomass degradation

(3) Superior yeast strains for ethanol production.


Supported by the I-CORE Program of the Planning and Budgeting Committee and The Israel Science Foundation

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