Tag Archives: henrik scheller

Making Do with More: Joint BioEnergy Institute Researchers Engineer Plant Cell Walls to Boost Sugar Yields for Biofuels

When blessed with a resource in overwhelming abundance it’s generally a good idea to make valuable use of that resource. Lignocellulosic biomass is the most abundant organic material on Earth. For thousands of years it has been used as animal feed, and for the past two centuries has been a staple of the paper industry. This abundant resource, however, could also supply the sugars needed to produce advanced biofuels that can supplement or replace fossil fuels, providing several key technical challenges are met. One of these challenges is finding ways to more cost-effectively extract those sugars. Major steps towards achieving this breakthrough are being taken by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI).

“Through the tools of synthetic biology, we have engineered healthy plants whose lignocellulosic biomass can more easily be broken down into simple sugars for biofuels,” says Dominique Loque, who directs the cell wall engineering program for JBEI’s Feedstocks Division. “Working with the model plant, Arabidopsis, as a demonstration tool, we have genetically manipulated secondary cell walls to reduce the production of lignin while increasing the yield of fuel sugars.” (more…)

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Boosting Galactan Sugars Could Boost Biofuel Production

Collaboration at JBEI Identifies the First Enzyme Linked to Galactan Synthesis

Galactan is a polymer of galactose, a six-carbon sugar that can be readily fermented by yeast into ethanol and is a target of interest for researchers in advanced biofuels produced from cellulosic biomass. Now an international collaboration led by scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) has identified the first enzyme capable of substantially boosting the amount of galactan in plant cell walls.

Unlike ethanol, advanced biofuels synthesized from the sugars in plant cells walls could replace gasoline, diesel and jet fuels on a gallon-for-gallon basis and be dropped into today’s engines and infrastructures with no modifications required. Also, adanced biofuels have the potential to be carbon-neutral, meaning they could be burned without adding excess carbon to the atmosphere. Among the key challenges to making advanced biofuels cost competitive is finding ways to maximize the amount of plant cell wall sugars that can be fermented into fuels. (more…)

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A Better Route to Xylan

Joint BioEnergy Institute Researchers Find New Access to Abundant Biomass for Advanced Biofuels

After cellulose, xylan is the most abundant biomass material on Earth, and therefore represents an enormous potential source of stored solar energy for the production of advance biofuels. A major roadblock, however, has been extracting xylan from plant cell walls. Researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) have taken a significant step towards removing this roadblock by identifying a gene in rice plants whose suppression improves both the extraction of xylan and the overall release of the sugars needed to make biofuels.

The newly identified gene – dubbed XAX1 – acts to make xylan less extractable from plant cell walls. JBEI researchers, working with a mutant variety of rice plant – dubbed xax1 – in which the XAX1 gene has been “knocked-out” found that not only was xylan more extractable, but saccharification – the breakdown of carbohydrates into releasable sugars – also improved by better than 60-percent. Increased saccharification is key to more efficient production of advanced biofuels. (more…)

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