Seminar - Protein Engineering of Microbial Cellulases for the Next Generation of Biofuels

Date and Time


Food Science lecture room 128


Kathleen Hefferon

Department of Food Science and Technology, Cornell University

Dissociative enzymes such as cellulases are greatly desired for a variety of applications in the food, fuel and fiber industries. Cellulases and other cell wall degrading enzymes are currently being engineered with improved traits for application in the breakdown of lignocellulosic biomass. Biochemical assays using these ‘designer’ enzymes have traditionally been carried out using synthetic substrates such as crystalline bacterial microcellulose (BMCC). The use of synthetic substrates may not reflect the actual action of these cellulases on real plant biomass. We examined the potential of suspension cell walls from several plant species as possible alternatives for synthetic cellulose substrates. This work will provide for a new assay system that is both consistent and accessible for research use across the globe. In addition to this, we have demonstrated that it is feasible to produce cellulases inexpensively and at high levels in plants using a recombinant plant virus expression system. Our long-term goals are to use this system to develop tailored cocktails of cellulases that have been engineered to function optimally for specific tasks, such as the conversion of biomass into biofuel or the enhancement of nutrients available in livestock feed. The broad impact would be to provide a facile and economic system for generating industrial enzymes that offer green solutions to industrialized communities and potentially the developing world.


Kathleen Hefferon has completed her PhD from University of Toronto and postdoctoral studies from the Department of Food Sciences, Cornell University. She has been the Fulbright Canada Research Chair of Global Food Security at the University of Guelph, Canada. She is currently redesigning a microbiology course at Cornell University and is writing a second edition to her book “Biopharmaceuticals in Plants.” Kathleen has published in multiple research journals and has edited 6 books. Kathleen just completed as editor of an Encyclopedia on Food Security and Sustainability, and is now an Assitant Editor for Frontier’s Journal of Nutrition. Kathleen lives in Ithaca, New York with her husband and two children.

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