BackgroundCellulosic biomass is a promising resource for bioethanol production. However, various sugars in plant biomass hydrolysates including cellodextrins, cellobiose, glucose, xylose, and arabinose, are poorly fermented by microbes. The commonly used ethanol-producing microbe Saccharomyces cerevisiae can usually only utilize glucose, although metabolically engineered strains that utilize xylose have been developed. Direct fermentation of cellobiose could avoid glucose repression during biomass fermentation, but applications of an engineered cellobiose-utilizing S. cerevisiae are still limited because of its long lag phase. Bioethanol production from biomass-derived sugars by a cellulolytic filamentous fungus would have many advantages for the biorefinery industry.ResultsWe selected Myceliophthora thermophila, a cellulolytic thermophilic filamentous fungus for metabolic engineering to produce ethanol from glucose and cellobiose. Ethanol production was increased by 57% from glucose but not cellobiose after introduction of ScADH1 into the wild-type (WT) strain. Further overexpression of a glucose transporter GLT-1 or the cellodextrin transport system (CDT-1/CDT-2) from N. crassa increased ethanol production by 131% from glucose or by 200% from cellobiose, respectively. Transcriptomic analysis of the engineered cellobiose-utilizing strain and WT when grown on cellobiose showed that genes involved in oxidation–reduction reactions and the stress response were downregulated, whereas those involved in protein biosynthesis were upregulated in this effective ethanol production strain. Turning down the expression of pyc gene results the final engineered strain with the ethanol production was further increased by 23%, reaching up to 11.3 g/L on cellobiose.ConclusionsThis is the first attempt to engineer the cellulolytic fungus M. thermophila to produce bioethanol from biomass-derived sugars such as glucose and cellobiose. The ethanol production can be improved about 4 times up to 11 grams per liter on cellobiose after a couple of genetic engineering. These results show that M. thermophila is a promising platform for bioethanol production from cellulosic materials in the future.