Now the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint
BioEnergy Institute has paired with LS9 to tweak the microbe and
further improve and validate the company's approach. Despite
the enormous potential, the technology is still in its nascent
stages. Describes Eric Steen, a researcher with JBEI’s Fuels
Synthesis Division states, "There is still much more research to
do before this process becomes commercially feasible."
help improve the bacteria's prospects, the JBEI researchers -- Jay
Keasling, the Chief Executive Officer for JBEI; Mr. Steen; Yisheng
Kang; and Gregory Bokinsky -- threw their genetic toolkit at the
bacteria, adding a host of novel pathways to produce additional
structurally tailored fatty esters (biodiesel), alcohols and waxes
directly from glucose.
With a greater array of products
secured, the researchers next focused on converting sugars other than
glucose. To accomplish this the researchers added
hemicellulases, special enzymes that digest the tough cellulose
polysaccharides that typically go to waste.
Steen, "Engineering E. coli to produce hemicellulases enables
the microbes to produce fuels directly from the biomass of plants
that are not used as food for humans or feed for animals. Currently,
biochemical processing of cellulosic biomass requires costly enzymes
for sugar liberation. By giving the E. coli the capacity to ferment
both cellulose and hemicellulose without the addition of expensive
enzymes, we can improve the economics of cellulosic biofuels."
results were published
in the January 28, 2010 edition of the prestigious Nature
Continuing ahead the researchers see much work to be
done. Foremost among the objectives are maximizing the speed
and efficiency at which the microbes process the biofuels.
will certain question whether it's worth it for the government and
private sector to be pouring so much money into funding biofuels
research. However, they must consider that biologically
produced biofuels are unarguably one of the strongest and most
promising cornerstones of energy research. After all, the
modern global industrial economy was built on the backbone of
naturally fixed solar energy in the form of hydrocarbons (oil, coal,
and natural gas), and being able to replenish these stocks in a cheap
carbon neutral manner could solve mankind's energy problems in the
short term -- and that could be enormously lucrative and beneficial.