Genetic Study Reveals Cheaper Process to Convert Sawdust to Biofuel

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A team of genetic engineers reports it has developed an inexpensive process that uses fungus to convert raw materials such as straw and sawdust into a productive biofuel.

While it was previously known that the Trichoderma fungus produces the enzymes needed to break down such lignocellulosic wastes into a form of biofuel, the process was prohibitively expensive since the molecular switch required stimulation from a pure substance known as disaccharide sophorose, which is worth 60 times more than gold.

Through genetic analysis, scientists from the Vienna University of Technology identified the specific gene that triggers the process — as well as the protein that the gene mutation affects — enabling them to mimic the same mutation in other strains of fungus.

“We have understood the mechanism of this molecular switch and, consequently, many wonderful possibilities are opening up for us,” said Astrid Mach-Aigner, project group leader of the study published in the journal Biotechnology for Biofuels.

Article appearing courtesy Yale Environment 360.

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Yale Environment 360 is an online magazine offering opinion, analysis, reporting and debate on global environmental issues. We feature original articles by scientists, journalists, environmentalists, academics, policy makers, and business people, as well as multimedia content and a daily digest of major environmental news. Yale Environment 360 is published by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale University. We are funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The opinions and views expressed in Yale Environment 360 are those of the authors and not of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies or of Yale University.

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