Recent years have witnessed a spurt of activities in the elucidation of the molecular function of a class of proteins with great potential in biomass degradation. GH61 proteins are of fungal origin and were originally classified in family 61 of the glycoside hydrolases. From the beginning they were strongly suspected to be involved in cellulose degradation because of their expression profiles, despite very low detectable endoglucanase activities. A major breakthrough came from structure determination of the first members, establishing the presence of a divalent metal binding site and a similarity to bacterial proteins involved in chitin degradation. A second breakthrough came from the identification of cellulase boosting activity dependent on the integrity of the metal binding site. Finally very recently GH61 proteins were demonstrated to oxidatively cleave crystalline cellulose in a Cu and reductant dependant manner. This mini-review in particular focuses on the contribution that structure elucidation has made in the understanding of GH61 molecular function and reviews the currently known structures and the challenges remaining ahead for exploiting this new class of enzymes to the full.
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