Celluslosic Ethanol And The Hungry Fungus  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

The Age has a report on some research into sugar producing fungi - Ethanol clue from hungry fungus.

A DEEP-GREEN fungus — best known for eating through uniforms and canvas tents during World War II — might provide a more efficient way to make biofuels such as ethanol, researchers say. They sequenced the complete genome of Trichoderma reesei and found important clues about how it breaks down plant fibres into the simple sugars needed to make plant-based fuel.

While its appetite for cotton and other fibrous plants caused trouble for troops in the South Pacific, the fungus might provide a way to use switchgrass and other non-food plants to make biofuels, the researchers reported in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

One barrier to using non-food plants to make biofuels has been the difficulty in converting them into sugar. Food crops such as corn more readily convert. "Our analysis, coupled with the genome sequence data, provides a road map for constructing enhanced T. reesei strains for industrial applications such as biofuel production," Diego Martinez, of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, wrote. ...

"We were aware of T. reesei's reputation as producer of massive quantities of degrading enzymes. However, we were surprised by how few enzyme types it produces, which suggested to us that its protein secretion system is exceptionally efficient," Mr Martinez said.

T. reesei could be grown on an industrial scale to secrete its fibre-eating enzymes, which in turn could be added to pulped-up plants to produce sugar. The sugar could then be fermented by yeast to produce ethanol.

"The information contained in its genome will allow us to better understand how this organism degrades cellulose so efficiently and to understand how it produces the required enzymes so prodigiously," said Joel Cherry, of Danish-based Novozymes, a biotechnology company that took part in the study. "Using this information, it may be possible to improve both of these properties, decreasing the cost of converting cellulosic biomass to fuels and chemicals."

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