Susan B. Leschine

Professor of Microbiology, University of Massachusetts

S. Leschine Microbiology Dept Website

Ph.D.: University of Pittsburgh
Postdoctoral Training: University of Massachusetts

Microbial Biology: Anaerobic Decomposition of Insoluble Natural Polymers; Fuels from Biomass

The most abundant organic materials on Earth are structural polysaccharides such as cellulose and chitin. Anaerobic microorganisms that ferment insoluble polymers play a central role in carbon cycling on the planet as a source of CO2 and, indirectly, of methane. The primary objective of our research is to advance understanding of fundamental aspects of the biology of polysaccharide-fermenting microbes. For the most part, our research has concerned species of Clostridium isolated from a variety of soils collected around the world. These clostridia produce ethanol as a product of cellulose fermentation, and therefore are potentially useful for producing fuel alcohol from biomass. Currently, we are investigating the physiology, genetics, and ecology of these bacteria and the cellulase enzymes they produce. Also, we are developing tools for their genetic manipulation so that we may improve ethanol production through metabolic engineering.

An important aspect of our work concerns studies of the enzyme systems that catalyze the degradation of insoluble polymers. For the most part, anaerobic bacteria produce extracellular high-molecular-weight multiprotein complexes that hydrolyze plant structural polymers such as cellulose and xylan. We have shown that the cellulase-xylanase system of Clostridium papyrosolvens differs from previously described systems in that it is composed of several discrete multiprotein complexes, rather than a single complex. Current research is aimed at understanding how this multicomplex cellulase-xylanase system is constructed.

Representative publications:

Leschine, S. 2004. Degradation of polymers: cellulose, starch, pectin, xylan. In P. Dürre (ed.), Handbook on Clostridia, CRC Press, Boca Raton.

Reguera, G., and S. B. Leschine. 2003. Biochemical and genetic characterization of ChiA, the major enzyme component for the solubilization of chitin by Cellulomonas uda. Archives of Microbiology 180 :434-443.

Warnick, T. A., and S. B. Leschine. 2002. Clostridium phytofermentans sp. nov., a cellulolytic mesophile from forest soil. International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology 52 :1155-1160.

Monserrate, E., S. B. Leschine and E. Canale-Parola (2001). "Clostridium hungatei sp. nov., a mesophilic, N2-fixing cellulolytic bacterium isolated from soil." Int J Syst Evol Microbiol 51(Pt 1): 123-32.

Reguera, G. and S. B. Leschine (2001). "Chitin degradation by cellulolytic anaerobes and facultative aerobes from soils and sediments." FEMS Microbiol Lett 204(2): 367-74.

Monserrate, E., Canale-Parola, E. and Leschine, S.B. (1998) Clostridium hungatei sp. nov., a mesophilic N2-fixing cellulolytic bacterium from soil. Int. J. of System. Bacteriol., in press.

Leschine, S.B. (1995) Cellulose degradation in anaerobic environments. Annu. Rev. Microbiol. 49, 399-426.

Pohlschršder, M., Canale-Parola, E. and Leschine, S. (1995) Ultrastructural diversity of the cellulase complexes of Clostridium papyrosolvens C7. J. Bacteriol. 177, 6625-6629.

Durrant, L.R., Canale-Parola, E. and Leschine, S.B. (1995) Facultatively anaerobic cellulolytic fungi from soil. In: The Significance and Regulation of Soil Biodiversity, (H.P. Collins, G.P. Robertson, M.J. Klug, eds.), Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, The Netherlands, pp. 161-167.

Pohlschršder, M., Leschine, S. and Canale-Parola, E. (1994) Multicomplex cellulase-xylanase system of Clostridium papyrosolvens C7. J. Bacteriol. 176, 70-76.