EBI Personnel Directory Cann, Isaac
Dr. Isaac K. O. Cann is Deputy Director (as of 1/1/13) of the Energy Biosciences Institute. He has been with the EBI since its inception and is currently serving as principal investigator for the program "Biocatalysis and Conversion of Plant Cell Wall Polysaccharides to Biofuels."
Dr. Cann is Professor of Microbiology and Animal Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As Deputy Director, he provides management and oversight for all EBI activities in Illinois.
His research program concerns the discovery and characterization of genes and the corresponding enzymes that catalyze efficient conversion of cellulose to sugars. Further, his group’s work to isolate cellulose-degrading enzymes from microbes found in hot springs is being integrated into the research on fermentation systems that other EBI scientists are developing.
Cann joined the University of Illinois in 2001 after studying Animal Science at the University of Ghana and later earning his Ph.D. in Rumen Microbiology from Mie University, Japan. He has been the recipient of a National Science Foundation CAREER Award in 2003 and was named a Center for Advanced Study Fellow in 2005. In addition to his work with plant cell wall deconstruction, his laboratory also uses biochemical and genomic approaches to study the evolutionary relationships of DNA replication proteins, specifically in archaeal/eukaryotic lineages.
A major limitation of microorganisms used in fermentation of carbohydrates to ethanol is their lack of enzymes required for the efficient conversion of cellulose to sugars. Nature, however, has evolved such enzymes that degrade cell walls in places like the stomach of cows. This work is identifying the genes that encode for such enzymes, with a view to development of more highly active enzyme systems for use in the bioenergy-crops-to-fuels conversion.
It may be possible to increase the amount of oil that can be extracted from subsurface oil field reservoirs using microbial metabolisms. Fouke’s team will determine the distribution, frequency, and expression of genes in subsurface microbial communities in order to infer the unique metabolic processes inherent to this environment. Findings will be integrated with reservoir environmental conditions and geological history to establish a universal template for developing Microbially Enhanced Hydrocarbon Recovery (MEHR) strategies in oil and gas reservoirs, oil shales, tar sands, and coal beds under a range of subsurface temperature and pressure conditions.
The EBI’s enzyme portfolio includes thermostable enzymes that target hemicellulose and cellulose for degradation. The aim of this project, which is a collaboration among several EBI investigators and a BP scientist, is to systematically examine different mixtures of the thermostable enzymes for their capacity to depolymerize Agave and sugarcane bagasse.