The Trichoderma reesei genome paper was recently published in Nature Biotechnology from Diego Martinez at LANL with collaborators at JGI, LBNL, and others. This fungus was chosen for sequencing because it was found on canvas tents eating the cotton material suggesting it may be a good candidate for degrading cellulose plant material as part of cellulosic ethanol or other biofuels production. The fungus also has starring roles in industrial processes like making stonewashed jeans due to its prodigious cellulase production.
The most surprising findings from the paper include the fact that there are so few members of some of the enzyme families even though this fungus is able to generate enzymes with so much cellulase activity. The authors found that there is not a significantly larger number of glucoside hydrolases which is a collection of carbohydrate degrading enzymes great for making simple sugars out of complex ones. In fact, several plant pathogens compared (Fusarium graminearum and Magnaporthe grisea) and the sake fermenting Aspergillus oryzae all have more members of this family than does. T. reesei has almost the least (36) copies of a cellulose binding domain (CBM) of any of the filamentous ascomycete fungi. They used the CAZyme database (carbohydrate active enzymes) database which has done a fantastic job building up profiles of different enzymes involved in carhohydrate degradation binding, and modifications.
Whether T. reesei is really the best cellulose degrading fungus is definitely an open question. That it works well in the industrial culture that it has been utilized in is important, but there may be other species of fungi with improved cellulase activity and who may in fact have many more copies of cellulases. So it will be good to add other fungi to the mix with quantitative information about degradation to try and glean what are the most important combination of enzymes and activities.
One technical note. The comparison of copy number differences employed in the paper is a simple enough Chi-Squared, work that I’ve done with Matt Hahn and others include a gene family size comparison approach that also taked into account phylogenetic distances and assumes a birth-death process of gene family size change. It would be great to apply the copy number differences through this or other approaches that just evaluate gene trees for these domains to see where the differences are significant and if they can be polarized to a particular branch of the tree.
So will this genome sequence lead to cheaper, better biofuel production? Certainly it provides an important toolkit to start systematically testing individual cellulase enzymes. It’s hard to say how fast this will make an impact, but the work of JBEI and a host of other research groups and biotech companies are going to be able to systematically test out the utility of these individual enzymes.
There is also evolutionary work by other groups on the evolution of these Hypocreales fungi trying to better define when biotrophic and heterotrophic transitions occurred to sample fungi with different lifestyles that might have different cellulase enyzmes that may not have been observed. Defining the relationships of these fungi and when and how many times transitions to lifestyles occurred to choose the most diverse fungi may be an important part of discovering novel enzymes.
Martinez, D., Berka, R.M., Henrissat, B., Saloheimo, M., Arvas, M., Baker, S.E., Chapman, J., Chertkov, O., Coutinho, P.M., Cullen, D., Danchin, E.G., Grigoriev, I.V., Harris, P., Jackson, M., Kubicek, C.P., Han, C.S., Ho, I., Larrondo, L.F., de Leon, A.L., Magnuson, J.K., Merino, S., Misra, M., Nelson, B., Putnam, N., Robbertse, B., Salamov, A.A., Schmoll, M., Terry, A., Thayer, N., Westerholm-Parvinen, A., Schoch, C.L., Yao, J., Barbote, R., Nelson, M.A., Detter, C., Bruce, D., Kuske, C.R., Xie, G., Richardson, P., Rokhsar, D.S., Lucas, S.M., Rubin, E.M., Dunn-Coleman, N., Ward, M., Brettin, T.S. (2008). Genome sequencing and analysis of the biomass-degrading fungus Trichoderma reesei (syn. Hypocrea jecorina). Nature Biotechnology DOI: 10.1038/nbt1403