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article imageSuper yeast increases ethanol yield

By Tim Sandle     Oct 16, 2013 in Science
A research team have engineered a yeast to consume acetic acid, a previously unwanted by-product of the process of converting plant leaves, stems and other tissues into biofuels.
The new yeast is a strain of the species Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Transitionally the yeast has been used in wine making, baking and brewing since ancient times.
This particular yeast is also good at fermenting simple sugars (such as those found in corn kernels and sugarcane) to produce ethanol. The yeast has been genetically engineered to work more efficiently at digesting plant material.
There are different ways by which biofuels can be created. These are first-generation biofuels, that are made from the sugars and vegetable oils found in arable crops; and second-generation biofuels manufactured from various types of biomass (plant material).
To produce a biofuel, this involves the application of an enzyme, polysaccharides (sugar polymers) that make up the bulk of wood and paper have to be broken down into simple sugars. These are then fermented to produce liquid biofuels. With this new research, the yeast is acting as an enzyme.
The new process, using the modified yeast, increases the ethanol yield, compared with standard biofuel production, by around 10 per cent. Specifically the yeast targets lignocellulose, which is the fibrous material that makes up the structural tissues of plants.
The researchers hope that, if commercialized, new yeast will the simplify plant breeding and pre-treatment of the cellulose in preparation for biofuel production.
The findings have been published in Nature Communications. The paper is titled “Enhanced biofuel production through coupled acetic acid and xylose consumption by engineered yeast.”
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