Edenspace Systems Licenses MSU Technology for Endoplant Enzymes to Optimize Cellulosic Ethanol Production
Edenspace Systems Corp., a Kansas plant biotechnology company that develops new crops for biofuels and environmental cleanup, has licensed Michigan State University (MSU) technology that modifies the corn genome to express enzymes (endoplant, or “in-plant” enzymes) within the corn biomass needed to convert cellulose into fermentable sugar. (Earlier post.)
The transgenic corn plants produce these enzymes only in their leaves and stalk, and store them in sub-cellular compartments (the vacuoles).
The most recent version of the MSU engineered corn developed by Professors Mariam Sticklen—Spartan Corn III—now uses three enzymes from different sources: the thermophilic Acidothermus cellulolyticus E1 endo-cellulase; the fungal Trichoderma reesei (CBH1) exo-cellulase; and, the most recent addition, the microbial Butyrivibrio fibrisolvens H17c beta-glucosidase.
Edenspace expects to use the MSU technology to release biofuel corn varieties directly to growers as well as sublicensing the technology to other companies that want to add the gene to their corn varieties. The company also will investigate using the technology in other biofuel crops such as sorghum, switchgrass and sugarcane.
We’re excited to start commercializing this technology. We’ve been collaborating with Dr. Sticklen on this research for the past four years. This is a very productive extension of that work.—Bruce Ferguson, president of Edenspace
Because of the regulations surrounding the release of transgenic crops, Ferguson estimated that it would take at least three years before the new biofuel varieties were available commercially.
In June, Edenspace received a two-year, Phase II Small Business Innovation Research grant from the US Department of Agriculture to support continued Edenspace development of enhanced switchgrass varieties with traits such as endoplant enzyme expression that reduce the cost of producing ethanol and other biofuels from plant leaves and stems.
Begun in 2007, the project has a total budget of $645,000 that includes funding from the Kansas Bioscience Authority.
The company is developing enhanced varieties of corn, sorghum, switchgrass, and other crops to enhance their energy performance by incorporating genes that express cellulases, thereby reducing the cost of producing biofuels from plant biomass.
Producing enzymes in the plants themselves, rather than in microbial bioreactors, is expected to substantially reduce pre-treatment and enzyme costs. Integrating high-efficiency endoplant enzyme crops with biofuel production and distribution systems is projected to double per-acre ethanol yields, reduce the cost of cellulosic ethanol by 20%, increase farm income per acre by 25%, and relax pressures on farmland availability and water use.