The yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae is good at fermenting simple sugars (such as those found in corn kernels and sugarcane) to produce ethanol. But coaxing the yeast to feast on plant stems and leaves is not so easy. Doing it on an industrial scale requires a number of costly steps, one of which involves breaking down hemicellulose, a key component of lignocellulose.
"If we decompose hemicellulose, we obtain xylose and acetic acid," said
To get a better idea of the feasibility of the idea, graduate student
Next, Wei did the painstaking work of inserting the desirable genes into the yeast, a process that took several months. When she tested the yeast, she saw that it produced about 10 percent more ethanol than before, in line with Quarterman's calculations. In further experiments, she demonstrated that the new yeast was in fact making some of the ethanol from acetate, a first for S. cerevisiae.
"We sort of rebuilt how yeast uses carbon," Cate said.
The breakthrough also will help those who focus on other steps in the biofuels production process, Jin said. Plant geneticists and those involved in pretreatment can stop worrying about finding ways to eliminate acetic acid from lignocellulose, he said.
"Many people are curious about why we don't have cellulosic biofuel right now," Jin said. "But it's not because of one limiting step. We have many limiting steps in growing the biomass, storing, moving, harvesting, decomposing the biomass to the sugar, fermentation and then separation (of the ethanol). The advance that we are reporting involves one of those steps - fermentation. But it also will make other steps in the process a little easier."
Keywords for this news article include: Biotechnology, Energy, Biofuel, Oil and Gas, Bioengineering,
Our reports deliver fact-based news of research and discoveries from around the world. Copyright 2013, NewsRx LLC
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