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Biotech Power

Start-Up Genetically Modifies a Better Biofuel Bug 124

Al writes "A tiny cellulose-eating bacterium found a few years ago in the Chesapeake Bay has been genetically modified to help it break down cellulose and convert the results into the sugars needed to make ethanol. Scientists analyzed the organism's genome in 2003 and found that it possessed a combination of enzymes that simultaneously break down the tough cell walls in dead plants and convert the remaining cellulose into sugars. Recently, Zymetis completed its first successful commercial-scale trial using the bug. The company ran the modified microbe through a series of tests in large fermenters and found that it could convert one ton of cellulosic plant fiber into sugar in 72 hours. The microbe's main advantage is its ability to naturally combine two major steps in the ethanol process, which the company says could considerably slash the high costs of producing ethanol from cellulosic biomass like switchgrass, wood chips, and paper pulp. The piece includes a video of the company's CEO discussing the project."
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Start-Up Genetically Modifies a Better Biofuel Bug

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  • Re:Why? (Score:4, Informative)

    by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <> on Thursday March 19, 2009 @03:04AM (#27252305) Homepage

    Isn't it pretty much a foregone conclusion that cellulose based ethanol makes no sense when compared to algae or Jatropha (or similar oil seed plants that can grow on non-arable land) which can be converted to biodiesel?

    The idea isn't to grow crops for direct fermentation - but to convert plant (cellulose) waste that isn't used for other purposes. (Like animal feed.)

  • Not a problem (Score:4, Informative)

    by A nonymous Coward ( 7548 ) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @09:00AM (#27254241)

    As others have posted, this bug is too inefficient to compete in the wild. It takes so much energy to eat its food (cellulose) that other bacteria would quickly swamp it. Imagine a dog bred to jump instead of walk. All that extra energy would require more hunting to get more food, and the existing wild dogs would quickly knock it out of competition.

  • by afidel ( 530433 ) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @10:31AM (#27255485)
    You're on serious crack, NA is a net exporter of food by a LARGE amount. The great plains are the worlds bread basket and California and Mexico produce vast quantities of fruits and vegetables. The only thing we import in any great quantity is fruits and vegetables from central America during the winter months as even the growing areas in Mexico are far enough north to have significant dropoff in productivity then.

You will never amount to much. -- Munich Schoolmaster, to Albert Einstein, age 10