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Steve Decker

Group Research Manager III-Molecular Biology | 303-384-7759
Orcid ID

Research Interests

  • Cellulase engineering and synergy for biomass conversion

  • Lab automation and high throughput screening

  • Fungal molecular biology and fermentation

  • Non-dilute acid pretreatment technologies

  • Cellulose nanocrystal applications

Affiliated Research Programs

  • Enzyme Engineering and Optimization (PI)

  • BioEnergy Science Center – Biomass Recalcitrance (project lead)

  • BioEnergy Science Center – Enzymatic Fundamentals (contributor)

  • DSM TSA (PI)

  • Targeted Microbial Deconstruction (contributor)

  • Cellulosic Nanocrystals (contributor)

  • Biological & Catalytic Conversion of Sugars & Lignin (collaborator)

  • Computational Modeling (collaborator)

Areas of Expertise

  • Protein Biochemistry:

    • Enzyme assays and kinetics

    • Protein engineering

    • Protein expression and purification (fungal/yeast/bacterial)

    • Fungal transformation

    • Enzyme synergy/optimization for hydrolysis of biomass

    • Cellulase biochemistry

    • Protein production through fermentation up to 100L scale

  • Biomass Conversion:

    • Functional understanding of multiple biomass pretreatment strategies (acid/alkaline/neutral)

    • Detailed knowledge of biomass-hydrolyzing enzyme function and interaction with biomass feedstocks

    • Experience with numerous feedstock types

  • Project and Personnel Management:

    • Coordinate scientists and engineers with diverse backgrounds to solve complex problems

    • Plan budgets and annual operating plans

    • Develop productive and cooperative relationships with internal and external (including international) partners

    • Plan and meet milestones

    • Obtain funding through various granting agencies and partners

    • Recurring Program Chair/Co-Chair for the annual Symposium on Biotechnology for Fuels and Chemicals (˜700 attendees)

  • Unique Problem-Solving Abilities:

    • Innovative and successful approaches to HTP screening in biomass recalcitrance

    • Development of a robust Trichoderma reesei expression system for Cel7 and other proteins

    • Direct and systematic solving of research roadblocks through logic and out-of-the-box thinking


  • Ph.D., Microbiology, Colorado State University, 1996

  • M.S., Microbiology, University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh, 1993

  • B.S., Biology, University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, 1988

Professional Experience

  • Principal Scientist/Section Supervisor, National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), Project Leader in BioEnergy, Science Center, Subtask Leader for Advanced Biological Deconstruction, 2013–present

  • Senior Scientist II, NREL, Subtask Leader for Oligomer Saccharification, Task Leader for joint DOE/USDA projectEdenspace CRADA, Other Research Skills and Experience, 20072013

  • Senior Scientist, NREL, Subtask Leader for Hemicellulase and Accessory Enzymes, 20022006

  • Staff Scientist II, NREL, 19992002

  • Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, NREL, 19961999

  • Adjunct Faculty, Red Rocks Community College, 20002004


  1. "Multi-Chamber Pretreatment Reactor for High Throughput Screening of Biomass," U. S. Patent Application 20100105570 (2010)

  2. "Processing Cellulosic Biomass," WIPO PCT Application PCT/US2009/048153, U. S. Patent Application 20120040408 (2009)

  3. "Cellobiohydrolase I Enzymes," U. S. Patent Application 20090162916 (2009)

  4. "Superactive Cellulase Formulation Using Cellobiohydrolase-1 from Penicillium funiculosum," U.S. Patent No. 8,283,150 (2012)

  5. "Superactive Cellulase Formulation Using Cellobiohydrolase-1 from Penicillium funiculosum," U.S. Patent No. 7,449,550 (2008)

  6. "Thermal Tolerant Exoglucanase from Acidothermus cellulolyticus," U.S. Patent No. 7393673 (2008)

  7. "Cellobiohydrolase I gene and improved variants," U.S. Patent No. 7375197 (2008)

  8. "Thermal Tolerant Cellulase from Acidothermus cellulolyticus," U.S. Patent No. 7059993 (2006)

  9. "Alkaline Tolerant Dextranase from Streptomyces anulatus," U.S. Patent No. 6509184 (2003)

  10. "Cellulase Animation," U.S. Copyright. Registration Number PAu-2-568-364 (2001)

View all NREL patents for Stephen R. Decker.

Featured Publications

  1. "Working towards recalcitrance mechanisms: increased xylan and homogalacturonan production by overexpression of GAlactUronosylTransferase12 (GAUT12) causes increased recalcitrance and decreased growth in Populus," Biotech. Biofuels (2017) 

  2. "Distinct roles of N-and O-glycans in cellulase activity and stability," PNAS (2017)

  3. "Lignocellulose deconstruction in the biosphere," Cur. Opin. Chem. Bio. (2017)

  4. "Anaerobic Microplate Assay for Direct Microbial Conversion of Switchgrass and Avicel using Clostridium thermocellum," Biotechnol. Lett. (2017)

  5. "Undefined cellulase formulations hinder scientific reproducibility," Biotech. Biofuels (2017)

  6. "Biomass Conversion," in Handbook of Industrial Chemistry and Biotechnology (2017)

  7. "Multifunctional Cellulolytic Enzymes Outperform Processive Fungal Cellulases for Coproduction of Nanocellulose and Biofuels," ACS Nano. (2017)

  8. "A versatile 2A peptide-based bicistronic protein expressing platform for the industrial cellulase producing fungus, Trichoderma reesei," Biotech. BioFuels (2017)

  9. "Study of traits and recalcitrance reduction of field-grown COMT down-regulated switchgrass," Biotech. Biofuels (2017)

  10. "Downregulation of the UDP-arabinomutase gene in switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) results in increased cell wall lignin while reducing arabinose-glycans," Frontiers Plant Sci. (2016)

  11. "Biochemical and structural characterization of two Dictyostelium cellobiohydrolases from the Amoebozoa kingdom reveal a high conservation between distant phylogenetic trees of life," Appl. Environ. Microbiol. (2016)

  12.  "Identification and overexpression of a Knotted1-like transcription factor in switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) for lignocellulosic feedstock improvement," Frontiers Plant Sci. (2016)

  13. "Hybridization of downregulated-COMT transgenic switchgrass lines with field-selected switchgrass for improved biomass traits," Euphytica (2016)

  14. "New Perspective on Glycoside Hydrolase Binding to Lignin from Pretreated Corn Stover," Biotech. Biofuels (2015)

  15. "Down-regulation of p-coumaroyl quinate/shikimate 3′-hydroxylase (C3′H) and cinnamate 4-hydroxylase (C4H) genes in the lignin biosynthetic pathway of Eucalyptus urophylla × E. grandis leads to improved sugar release," Biotech. Biofuels (2015)

  16. "High-throughput screening of recalcitrance variations in lignocellulosic biomass: total lignin, lignin monomers, and enzymatic sugar release," Visual. Exper. (2015)

  17. "Identification and molecular characterization of the switchgrass AP2/ERF transcription factor superfamily, and overexpression of PvERF001 for improvement of biomass characteristics for biofuel," Frontiers Bioenerg. Biotechnol (2015)

  18. "A constitutive expression system for glycosyl hydrolase family 7 cellobiohydrolases in Hypocrea jecorina," Biotech. Biofuels (2015)

  19. "Rapid estimation of sugar release from winter wheat straw during bioethanol production using FTIR-photoacoustic spectroscopy," Biotech. Biofuels (2015)

  20. "Field evaluation of transgenic switchgrass plants overexpressing PvMYB4 for reduced biomass recalcitrance," BioEnergy Research (2015)

  21. "Heterologous protein expression in Hypocrea jecorina: an historical perspective and new developments," Biotechnol. Adv (2015)

  22. "Identification and characterization of core cellulolytic enzymes from Talaromyces cellulolyticus (formerly Acremonium cellulolyticus) critical for hydrolysis of lignocellulosic biomass," Biotech. Biofuels (2014)

  23. "Predicting enzyme adsorption to lignin films from enzyme surface hydrophobicity," J. Biolog. Chem. (2014)

  24. "Evaluation of high throughput screening methods in picking up differences between cultivars of lignocellulosic biomass for ethanol production," Biomass and Bioenergy (2014)

  25. "Fungal cellulases and complexed cellulosomal enzymes exhibit synergistic mechanisms in cellulose deconstruction," Energy Environ. Sci. (2013)

View all NREL Publications for Stephen R. Decker.

Please contact me with research questions, ideas for collaborations, and questions about the Biomass Program and Recalcitrance Pipeline. Please do NOT contact me directly for jobs—see instead information on NREL's Director's Postdoctoral Fellowship program or on NREL Careers in general.