Modified yeast to boost biofuel production

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Washington, March 29 (ANI): A team of scientists has worked out how to modify yeast cells so that they successfully convert a wider range of sugars from plant waste such as wheat and rice straw into alcohol that can be used as biofuel.

The scientists in question are Dr Christian Weber and Professor Eckhard Boles from Frankfurt University, Germany.

Bioalcohols produced by microbial fermentations are an example of second-generation biofuels that use raw materials not used in food production.

Plant waste is available in large amounts and contains a mixture of complex sugars including hexoses and pentoses that can be fermented to alcohol.

"As these feedstocks represent the biggest portion of processing costs, we need rapid and efficient conversion of all sugars present. At the moment there is a lack of microbes that will efficiently convert both hexoses and pentoses into ethanol," explained Dr Weber.

Bakers' yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae is already used in the beverage industry to efficiently convert hexose sugars, such as glucose, into ethanol.

By transferring genes from bacteria that naturally break down pentose, Dr Weber's team have engineered S. cerevisiae to successfully ferment pentose and hexose sugars.

"As pentoses represent a substantial part of the feedstock, the engineered yeast gives a much higher yield of ethanol for the same amount of feedstock," he said.

To enhance their biofuel potential even more, the yeast is being further modified to produce another bioalcohol - butanol instead of ethanol.

"Compared to ethanol, butanol shows superior properties as a potential biofuel. It has a lower vapour pressure, ignites at a higher temperature and is less corrosive. Butanol could replace ossil fuels up to 100 percent without modifying existing engines," said Professor Boles. (ANI)

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