Gallery: Scientists Isolate Plant Gene That Could Lead to Cheaper, More...


A research team at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) BioEnergy Science Center (BESC) has isolated the gene that controls the amount of ethanol production a microorganism is capable of. Isolating the gene, which is called clostridium thermocellum, could allow scientists to experiment with altering a part of the microorganism’s DNA to make it produce more ethanol from a single plant. Currently, ethanol requires an expensive enzyme, a lot of water and a lot of land to create sufficient amounts of energy. With this latest discovery, scientists could engineer plants that make ethanol to produce larger amounts with fewer resources.

The Department of Energy relies on the scientific discoveries of its labs and research centers to improve the production of clean energy sources,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “This discovery is an important step in developing biomass crops that could increase yield of ethanol, lower production costs and help reduce our reliance on imported oil.”

Previously, the issue with ethanol — and most other biofuel production processes — was the release of sugars within the plant that form the base of the fuel. Plants that produce ethanol and other biofuels are naturally hardy and releasing those sugars is difficult, but with this discovery, scientists could engineer the plants’ DNA to be easier to break down. Scientists have been studying clostridium thermocellum for decades but have been unable to isolate this specific gene before. This BESC study was just released in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and could be the key to a future of plant-driven transportation systems.

+ The Department of Energy


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  1. caeman August 12, 2011 at 10:56 am

    Hooray ethanol!

    It is local, renewable and greater use of it enhances national security.

  2. lazyreader August 12, 2011 at 10:48 am

    Previously the issue with ethanol………….Well the research and papers that have criticized it as not very practical. Brazil does it well because they use tropically grown cane sugar as a feed stock. It doesn’t work well in temperate climates where corn or soy is the material.

    nergy balance estimates are not easily produced, thus numerous such reports have been generated that are contradictory. For instance, a separate survey reports that production of ethanol from sugarcane, which requires a tropical climate to grow productively, returns from 8 to 9 units of energy for each unit expended, as compared to corn which only returns about 1.34 units of fuel energy for each unit. A study by atmospheric scientists at Stanford University found that E85 fuel would increase the risk of air pollution. The process of ethanol production from corn revealed that they released VOCs (volatile organic compounds) at a higher rate than had previously been disclosed by it’s makers. Large-scale farming is necessary to produce agricultural alcohol and this requires substantial amounts of cultivated land. University of Minnesota researchers report that if all corn grown in the U.S. were used to make ethanol it would only displace 12 percent of current U.S. gasoline consumption. Some propose non agricultural plants on non agricultural lands. Even so let the private sector explore and develop these mechanisms and programs. Because they’ll be the ones developing it sooner or later anyway and if not at least public money wasn’t spent on it.

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