Bacteria may Provide Low Cost Way to Extract Biofuel from Cellulosic Biomass
Sustainable biofuels are a critical part of developed and undeveloped countries’ hopes of weaning themselves off of fossil fuels as an energy source. Food crops such as corn and soybeans have been the biomass of choice, but have proven to be relatively expensive to grow and harvest. Many biofuel researchers agree that it would be far preferable to find biomass that thrives even in poor grade soil like brownfields. Cellulosic biomass, such as poplar trees and other woody plants would seem to be ideal. However, it has been a problem finding the right microorganism that can effectively break down cellulose to get to the plant’s sugar molecules from which biofuel is made.
Researchers at Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center in Wisconsin think they’ve found a way to do this. They are developing a new strain of bacteria that has the ability to extract the sugars from a cellulosic plant. The bacteria are common soil bacteria called Cellvibrio japonicus.
Scientists working with Cellvibrio japonicus have developed a process that induces a mutation in the bacteria’s cells. Controlling the mutated gene allows the bacteria to be used to convert cellulosic biomass into sugar. The process however needs to be controlled, and that is the next goal researchers have in sight.
Other biofuel technology using small organisms: