Genetic improvement of native xylose-fermenting yeasts for ethanol production

  • Nicole K. Harner
  • Xin Wen
  • Paramjit K. Bajwa
  • Glen D. Austin
  • Chi-Yip Ho
  • Marc B. Habash
  • Jack T. Trevors
  • Hung LeeEmail author


Lignocellulosic substrates are the largest source of fermentable sugars for bioconversion to fuel ethanol and other valuable compounds. To improve the economics of biomass conversion, it is essential that all sugars in potential hydrolysates be converted efficiently into the desired product(s). While hexoses are fermented into ethanol and some high-value chemicals, the bioconversion of pentoses in hydrolysates remains inefficient. This remains one of the key challenges in lignocellulosic biomass conversion. Native pentose-fermenting yeasts can ferment both glucose and xylose in lignocellulosic biomass to ethanol. However, they perform poorly in the presence of hydrolysate inhibitors, exhibit low ethanol tolerance and glucose repression, and ferment pentoses less efficiently than the main hexoses glucose and mannose. This paper reviews classical and molecular strain improvement strategies applied to native pentose-fermenting yeasts for improved ethanol production from xylose and lignocellulosic substrates. We focus on Pachysolen tannophilus, Scheffersomyces (Candida) shehatae, Scheffersomyces (Pichia) stipitis, and Spathaspora passalidarum which are good ethanol producers among the native xylose-fermenting yeasts. Strains obtained thus far are not robust enough for efficient ethanol production from lignocellulosic hydrolysates and can benefit from further improvements.


Adaptation Cofactor imbalance Genome shuffling Metabolic engineering Protoplast fusion Random mutagenesis Xylose reductase 



Our research on native pentose-fermenting yeasts was supported by the NSERC Bioconversion Network, BioFuelNet Canada and Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.


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Copyright information

© Society for Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicole K. Harner
    • 1
  • Xin Wen
    • 1
  • Paramjit K. Bajwa
    • 1
  • Glen D. Austin
    • 2
  • Chi-Yip Ho
    • 3
    • 4
  • Marc B. Habash
    • 1
  • Jack T. Trevors
    • 1
  • Hung Lee
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.School of Environmental SciencesUniversity of GuelphGuelphCanada
  2. 2.BP BiofuelsSan DiegoUSA
  3. 3.Microarray Laboratory, Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research InstituteMount Sinai HospitalTorontoCanada
  4. 4.Centre for Systems Biology, Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research InstituteMount Sinai HospitalTorontoCanada

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