|S. Degradans is the source of the Ethazyme mixtures.|
Zymetis, a start-up spun-off from the University of Maryland, is targeting the pre-processing of cellulosic biomass for ethanol production using an enzyme mixture derived from a bacterium found in the Chesapeake Bay—Saccharophagus degradans—that can break down almost any source of biomass into the component sugars for fermentation into ethanol.
S. degradans was originally isolated from decaying marsh grass. It is an aerobic, marine bacterium endowed with unusual degradative abilities. An analysis of its genome suggested that about 10% of the genome is dedicated to polysaccharide depolymerization, transport, and metabolism. The bacterium produces a host of plant-cell wall processing enzymes and is a “one stop shop”, according to Professor Steve Hutcheson, founder and CEO of Zymetis.
Zymetis, was founded to commercialize the enzyme system—called Ethazyme—developed by Professors Hutcheson and Ron Weiner. Ethazyme is licensed exclusively to Zymetis by the university.
We believe we have the most economical way to make the novel, efficient enzymes needed to produce biofuels from cellulosic material. Ethazyme breaks down cellulosic sources faster and more simply than any product available, resulting in lower costs.—Steve Hutcheson
Ethazyme degrades cell walls and breaks down the entire plant material into sugars in one step, creating fermentable sugars faster and at a significantly lower cost. The need for caustic chemicals used by competing processes is also reduced.
The company’s enzymes are easy to produce, work well in a water-based environment, are active under industrial conditions and rapidly break down plant material—meaning fewer enzymes will be needed to do the work, according to Hutcheson.
Zymetis recently entered a partnership with Fiberight, a regional company that processes cellulosic waste products (such as paper not normally collected as part of existing recycling programs). The two companies are teaming to establish by the end of 2008 a full-scale facility to process various cellulosic waste products into ethanol.
Zymetis is also conducting a new research project with University of Maryland Associate Professor Jonathan Dinman to generate improved fuel yields from sugars. Dinman is genetically engineering a yeast strain, using genes from the Bay-derived bacterium, to improve the production of ethanol from fermentable sugars by at least a third. The project, worth $112,000, is jointly funded by both the MTECH Maryland Industrial Partnerships (MIPS) Program and the company.
Biomass to Fuels: Problems and Solutions (Hutcheson)