Genetically Modified Fungus to Produce Bio Fuel

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Fungal Fuel

Researchers from the Vienna University of Technology have developed a method for producing genetically modified fungi which can be used to produce biofuels. These genetically modified fungi uses wastes such as sawdust and straw to produce biofuel.

Biofuel is biologically obtained fuel which is currently extracted out of starchy plants like sugarcane and corn. The usage of these edible plants places biofuel production in competition with food production. To eliminate this, lignocellulosic (plant dry matter) waste such as sawdust or straw can be used to produce biofuel. The only hurdle in this process is breaking down the long cellulose and xylan chains into smaller sugar molecules. In order to do so, specific chemical signals can be made to produce necessary enzymes. The process being very expensive, scientists have developed a technique that regulates enzyme production in the fungus. This resulted in the creation of modified fungi which produces enzyme necessary for making cheaper biofuel.

Biofuel production uses Trichoderma fungus which produces enzymes capable of breaking down the cellulose and xylan chains into sugar molecules. The only problem is that the fungus does not always produce these enzymes and therefore production must be stimulated. This problem was solved when scientists figured out many different strains of fungus with varying productivity and in one of the strains a random productivity occurred which stopped the chemical switch in the fungus from functioning. This however, did not stop the fungus from manufacturing enzymes.

Genetic analysis has made it possible to identify which gene is required for this behaviour and which protein affects gene mutation. This has made it possible to induce the same mutation in a targeted fashion in other strains of fungus.

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