Exploring cellulosic properties through enzyme modifications

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Chemistry


Cellulose is one of the most abundant materials on Earth, naturally it gives plant cells structure and flexibility. Cellulose is often a by-product of industrial processes, including sugar production, therefore to make use of this material, its applications need to be explored. For example, cellulose is being used to target unsustainable practices by being utilised as biofuels (alternative naturally derived fuels to fossil fuels) and as an additive in making bioplastics (plastic which comes from sustainable natural sources and can be biodegradable).

Taking advantage of the cellulosic properties and modifying them to widen its applications is essential to make these cellulose derived materials. Currently to make these products the process involves chemicals and harsh conditions. To combat this, enzymes may be used as a "green" alternative to make the same modifications under gentle conditions.

However, not all enzymes can work on cellulose. Therefore, this project aims to develop a method to find enzymes that can make various modifications on cellulose. These changes have to be detected but unfortunately cellulose is hard to analyse so the methods need to be sensitive to the changes and be able to look at a lot of enzymes in a short period of time. Fluorescent molecules (fluorophores) can be used to detect these modifications. To have a sensitive method involves looking into different fluorophores to find where they specifically bind. At the end of this project we will have a fluorescent screen to detect the changes made by the enzymes. The enzymes that can make changes will result in fluorescent cellulose. The products that these enzymes make will then be looked at to see what change in properties they possess. The enzymes found can be used in industry to develop cellulose based materials.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/N509644/1 01/10/2016 30/09/2021
2256919 Studentship EP/N509644/1 01/09/2019 31/08/2022 Rhona Cowan