Scientists find new enzyme that converts waste sugar xylose into biofuel

February 25th, 2009 - 3:48 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Feb 25 (ANI): A scientist has discovered a new enzyme that teaches yeast cells to ferment an unused waste sugar known as xylose, into ethanol, which is used for biofuel production.

The scientist in question is Eckhard Boles, co-founder of the Swiss biofuel company Butalco GmbH and a professor at Goethe-University in Frankfurt, Germany.

In industrial fermentation processes, the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae is commonly used for ethanol production.

Current bioethanol production technologies can use only parts of the plants, namely the storage sugars, like glucose, sucrose or starch.

However, this technology is in competition with food and feed production.

Eckhard Boles has therefore searched for ways of teaching the microorganisms to convert waste sugars, xylose and arabinose, into ethanol.

Now, Boles and his colleagues have succeeded in genetically modifying industrial yeast strains, thus producing ethanol from xylose in a single step.

Having already succeeded in transforming arabinose into ethanol by genetically modified yeast strains, Boles and his team have now found an efficient way to convert most of the plants energy into biofuel.

Up to now, scientists considered it as unpromising to equip yeast with a bacterial enzyme capable of converting xylose, because all attempts had failed, Boles explained.

But, he and his team continued trying by exploring the enormous amounts of information in current genetic databases.

Step by step, they took 12 enzymes from different bacterial organisms and inserted the enzymes into yeast cells.

Finally, they discovered a new enzyme that even worked in yeast cells from a commercial ethanol plant.

In contrast to current cellulosic ethanol technologies, the new enzyme can convert xylose in a single step and is not inhibited by other chemical compounds normally present within the yeast cells.

This is a break-through in the commercialisation of cellulosic ethanol, commented Boles.

The researchers have recently filed a patent application for their process. (ANI)

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