NorthenLab: Exometabolomics linking genomes with environments to understand how webs of microbes sustain biomes

Study investigates enzymes that could promote sustainable bioenergy production

Northen Lab researchers Nicole Ing, Kai Deng, and Trent Northen are authors on a paper examining glycoside hydrolases, or GHs. GHs are capable of hydrolyzing (or breaking down) polysaccharides, which make them an important compound for bioenergy production. A subfamily of GHs, GH5_4, can hydrolyze cellulose, xyloglucan, and mixed-linkage glucans that are present in plants and are the focus of this paper. 

The GH5_4 enzymes, of which 10 were able to be solved for their structure, originated from plant-degrading bacteria isolated from a variety of environments and conditions, such as cotton bales and the digestive tract of an herbivore. Multiple techniques were used to elucidate the structure and function of these enzymes, including x-ray crystallography to show structure and nanostructure-initiator mass spectrometry (NIMS) to determine the concentrations of oligosaccharide products. To learn more, read the original paper

Image: An example of a glycoside hydrolase structure


  1. Glasgow, E. M., Kemna, E. I., Bingman, C. A., Ing, N., Deng, K., Bianchetti, C. M., Takasuka, T. E., Northen, T. R., & Fox, B. G. (2020). A structural and kinetic survey of GH5_4 endoglucanases reveals determinants of broad substrate specificity and opportunities for biomass hydrolysis. Journal of Biological Chemistry, 295(51), 17752–17769.