Yeast Breakthrough Made for Cellulosic Ethanol

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have made a breakthrough that has some awfully big implications for cellulosic ethanol.

They’ve been able to put genes from grass-eating fungi into yeast and created strains that produce alcohol from tough plant material:

“By adding these genes to yeast, we have created strains that grow better on plant material than does wild yeast, which eats only glucose or sucrose,” said Jamie Cate, UC Berkeley associate professor of molecular and cell biology and faculty scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). “This improvement over the wild organism is a proof-of-principle that allows us to take the technology to the next level, with the goal of engineering yeast that can digest and ferment plant material in one pot.”

The researchers hope to insert the same fungal genes into industrial strains of yeast that now are used to turn sugar into ethanol biofuel in order to improve the efficiency of the fermentation process.

“The use of these cellodextrin transporters is not limited to yeast that makes ethanol,” Cate said. “They could be used in any yeast that’s been engineered to make, for example, other alcohols or jet fuel substitutes.”

The research has been funded by the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI), a research collaboration between UC Berkeley, the University of Illinois, LBNL and the funding sponsor, BP.

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0 responses to “Yeast Breakthrough Made for Cellulosic Ethanol”

  1. Can these engineered yeast live in the wild, outside of laboratory conditions? Have the possible consequences of this new “species” becoming wild been considered. I really like the idea of getting cleaner burning fuels from renewable plant roughage. I don’t like the idea of finding out ten years from now that these new engineered yeast are causing unwanted changes to the environment and cannot be eradicated. This is useful and important research but extreme care and thought must be used in this area.

  2. Thanks AB, very interesting approach by Microbiogen… food AND fuel in a true biorefinery will get more value per acre, good news all around.

  3. I agree that this could be enormously destructive to the environment. Imagine these yeasts getting loose in a wetland and converting massive amounts of cellulose in the water, even the bark of young herbaceous plants near the water, creeping up the embankments and “stealing” vegetative nutrient that would otherwise be feeding the natural ecosystem, turning it into toxic alcohol in the water and soil, killing soil-borne organisms vital to agriculture and nature in general. There would be no reversal of it. This could be a real disaster. If it were up to me I would destroy the organism in the lab instantly. THERE ARE VERY GOOD REASONS THIS ORGANISM DOESN’T EXIST IN NATURE! I have a degree in horticulture and am certain this yeast could be more destructive than a massive, unending oil spill.