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Japanese Biotech Startup Engineers More Efficient Ethanol Yeasts

2 August 2006

Nikkei. Japanese biotechnology start-up Neo-Morgan Laboratory Inc. has developed a new process for breeding Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeasts that can efficiently produce bioethanol from pentose (five-carbon) sugars, the sugars contained in cellulosic biomass.

Most bioethanol-producing yeasts break down glucose and other hexose (six-carbon) sugars obtained from the edible parts of plants such as sugarcane and corn.

Developing an organism that can ferment both pentose and hexose sugars would greatly increase the ethanol yield from a given amount of biomass, and is the focus of numerous research efforts.

For example, researchers at Delft University of Technology also are genetically modifying S. cerevisiae to enable the anaerobic fermentation of five- and six-carbon sugars. (Earlier post.)

A yeast capable of processing both five- and six-carbon sugars could increase production efficiency by 70%, according to Neo-Morgan.

Neo-Morgan focuses on its “disparity of theory of evolution” in its work with organisms. The disparity theory, as developed earlier by company Chairman and Chief Science Officer Mitsuru Furusawa, holds that DNA is replicated semiconservatively using the leading and discontinuous lagging strands of the molecule.

According to our disparity theory of evolution, the existence of a sufficient fidelity difference between the leading and lagging strands is advantageous in terms of evolution, because the diversity of genotypes is enlarged but genotypes that have occurred in the past are guaranteed. In theory, by artificially increasing the fidelity difference between the leading and lagging strand (disparity mutator), evolution is accelerated while avoiding the extinction of the population. Using a disparity mutator, we should be able to improve living things, including multicellular organisms, within constrained conditions. A double-stranded algorithm, which mimics the structure and replication manner of DNA, is promising for solving optimization problems.

—M. Furusawa M and H. Doi, 1998

Using genetic engineering based upon that theory, Neo-Morgan says it can improve the quality and capabilities of yeasts in a short time. It has already developed yeast that feeds on five-carbon sugars and is hurrying genetic analysis and field testing to boost efficiency.

Neo-Morgan is negotiating with Petrobras to supply its technology to improve the Brazilian oil company’s yeasts. Brazil accounts for nearly 40% of world ethanol-fuel consumption, and is the second-largest producer behind the US.

Neo-Morgan aims to commercialize its work in fiscal 2008 as a technology for mass-producing bioethanol at low cost.

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August 2, 2006 in Biotech, Cellulosic ethanol, Ethanol, Japan | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)

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Comments

I sure hope none of these super genetically engineered yeasts get loose in the free world. Maybe thats where that forward thinking movie, "The Blob", from the 50's or 60's got its inspiration from........

Sounds like this has the potential to make corn ethanol more worthwhile, though.

Does anybody know how this new strain is different from the Saccharomyces strain developed by Dr. Nancy Ho at Purdue University?

For folks that can read Japanese, the article in Nikkei:

Now 70% of plants(maize/suger cane) can be digested compared with only 45%, that hexose-only yeast.

http://www.neo-morgan.com/kiji/nikkeisangyou_060802.pdf

Looks like accelerated evolution combined with selective breeding. We have been doing one over the millennia, but how will we handle the accelerated evolution is THE issue.

Let's see:  the Billion Ton Vision says 1.3 billion tons/year potentially available, Iogen gets 87 gallons/ton, 70% more is 148 gallons per ton.  Over 1.3 billion tons, that's 192 billion gallons a year.

But a gallon of ethanol is only equivalent to about .62 gallons of gasoline, so make that 119 billion gallons of gasoline equivalent (GGE).  That still leaves 20 billion gallons a year, plus diesel, jet fuel, heating oil, chemicals, asphalt...

Face it, we aren't going to replace petroleum with biofuels if we keep using the same old inefficient combustion engines.

As BP would say:

"It's a start..."

It's as much of a start as a turn into a cul-de-sac is a cross-country trip.  You have to turn around and go back before you can get anywhere.

If you gasify the biomass you can take the syngas and let organisms create ethanol with greater efficiency because you can use the gasified lignin as well. You also can direct the syngas to make whatever else you want, from methane and methanol to kerosine and diesel with F/T.

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