IATA-CSIC patents a 'superenzyme' with applications in paper production

  • It is an extremophilic xylanase capable of functioning in an alkaline environment, above pH 10 and with temperatures of 90 degrees centigrade

  • This molecule reduces the amount of chemicals needed for paper bleaching and provides a more environmentally friendly alternative

  • The finding is part of the European Woodzymes project, led by the CSIC

Researchers from the Institute of Agrochemistry and Food Technology (IATA), a center of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), have patented an enzyme with application in the paper and wood industry. It is an extremophilic xylanase that reduces the use of chemical products for paper production, providing a more environmentally friendly alternative.

The patented enzyme is capable of functioning in an alkaline medium, above pH 10 and with temperatures of 90 degrees Celsius. This result has been obtained within the European project Woodzymes, in which research teams and industrial partners from Spain, Portugal, France and Finland participate and which is coordinated from the Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas Margarita Salas of the CSIC.

Xylanases are enzymes (molecules of protein nature responsible for chemical reactions in living beings) that catalyze the hydrolysis of xylan, a polysaccharide that together with cellulose and lignin are the main components of the plant cell wall. The elimination of xylan is necessary to obtain pure cellulose, suitable for paper production. 

The study of extremophilic xylanases has been carried out by the Enzyme Structure and Function group of IATA-CSIC, led by Julio Polaina. The discovery of the 'superenzyme' has been possible through the use of bioinformatic techniques. "We have managed to obtain this enzyme after analyzing more than 6,000 sequences noted in databases, the great majority of them of unknown function", explains David Talens-Perales, IATA researcher participating in the project. "With the described methodology, it has been cloned a xylanase capable of degrading xylan at high temperature and alkaline pH. Moreover, it has been possible to produce and purify it in high quantities".

Composting and obtaining prebiotics

In addition to using laboratory substrates for enzyme testing, enzymes have also been tested on natural residues such as rice straw, an agricultural by-product for which uses are being sought that will prevent burning and thus reduce environmental problems. The treatment with xylanases can facilitate the composting of the straw and would allow obtaining xyloligosaccharides, sugars with prebiotic character that have awoken great interest in the last years due to their beneficial impact on the intestinal microbiota and health.

Xylanases have other industrial applications, such as fodder production, composting, coffee extraction, vegetable oil extraction, starch extraction, juice clarification, etc. Currently, the enzyme is being tested by the paper industries RAIZ/Navigator (Portugal) and Centre Technique du Papier (France), with promising results.


Polaina J., Talens-Perales D., Sánchez-Torres P. Xylanase enzyme with extreme thermostability and alkaline stability. EP20382849 (2020)