The Protein and Enzyme Engineering Laboratory

Prof. Yuval Shoham

The overall crystal structure of an extracellular arabinanase
The overall crystal structure of an extracellular arabinanase

Our laboratory is engaged in elucidating the structure function relationships of enzymes and proteins involved in the breakdown of biomass and other natural polymers.

Background: The natural degradation of plant cell wall matter in Nature is a key step in the Carbon cycle on Earth. Lignocellulose is considered the most viable option as a renewable energy source that contributes close to zero net emission of carbon dioxide. The main difficulty in using cellulose as an energy source is its crystalline nature, which is highly resistance to hydrolysis. Our laboratory is trying to reveal and understand how microbial systems and enzymes breakdown the plant cell wall matter and how can these systems be utilized for biotechnological applications. For example, developing an economic process for generating biofuel from cellulose.

Our research emphasis include the cellulosome complex from Clostridium (Ruminiclostridium) thermocellum and the hemicellulolytic system of Geobacillus stearothermophilus. We utilize an integrated approach combining biochemistry, X-ray crystallography, genetic engineering, gene-regulation, microbial physiology, fermentation technology and metagenomics. Studies from our laboratory revealed novel enzymes, new crystal structures of glycoside hydrolases and their catalytic mechanisms.

Recent projects

  • Competing for carbon in the soil: quorum-sensing regulation of the extracellular xylanase in Geobacillus stearothermophilus (funded by the ISF).
  • Biomass sensing mechanism regulates cellulose utilization in Clostridium thermocellum (funded by the BSF).
  • Revealing novel regulatory elements of cellulosomal genes in Clostridium thermocellum (funded by the ISF).
  • Biomining metagenomics libraries for unique carbohydrate active enzymes aimed for the degradation of agricultural waste (funded by the Ministry of Environmental Protection).
  • Screening for the edge: functional and contextual metagenomics of biofuel-related systems (funded by the ISF).
  • Engineering glycosynthases for efficient synthesis of carbohydrates (funded by the Ministry of Science).
  • Biomass sensing in Clostridium (Ruminiclostridium) thermocellum via alternative sigma factors: structural and functional analysis (funded by the ISF).

Link to lab website: http://shoham.net.technion.ac.il/