in California are reporting use of a first-of-its-kind approach to
craft genetically engineered microbes with the much-sought ability to
transform switchgrass, corn cobs, and other organic materials into
methyl halides — the raw material for making gasoline and a host of
other commercially important products. The new bioprocess could help
pave the way for producing biofuels from agricultural waste, easing
concerns about stress on the global food supply from using corn and
other food crops. Their study is scheduled for the May 20 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society, a weekly publication.
Christopher Voigt and colleagues note in the new study that using crop
waste to produce methyl halides is one of the most attractive ways of
transforming biomass into liquid fuels and chemical raw materials now
derived from petroleum. Plants and microbes produce methyl halides
naturally, but in amounts too small for commercial use.
a database of 89 genes from plants, fungi, and bacteria known to
produce methyl halides, the researchers identified genes that were the
most likely to produce the highest levels of these substances. The
scientists then spliced these genes into Brewer’s yeast — used to make
beer and wine — so that the yeast cells churned out methyl halides
instead of alcohol. In laboratory studies, the two engineered microbes
helped boost methyl halide production from switchgrass, corn cob husks,
sugar cane waste, and poplar wood to levels with commercial potential.
News release courtesy of American Chemical Society