04 May 2008

Soft Rot Fungus Wants To Be Your Friend

While it may not seem a likely friend, soft rot fungus produces enzymes that can allow us to more cheaply create fuels from biomass. Trichoderma Reesei has caused the rot of clothing and shelter for generations of military and scientific personnel stationed in the jungle. Now the fungus has the opportunity to make up for its mischief.
In their comparative analysis of T. reesei with other fungi, the team observed clustering of carbohydrate-active enzyme genes, which suggested a specific biological role: polysaccharide degradation. “While plant tissues are not likely the main source of nutrients for T. reesei, upon detection of cellulose and hemicellulose it seems that the organization of these degrading genes may be the key to a rapid response,” said Martinez.

“The sequencing of the Trichoderma reesei genome is a major step towards using renewable feedstocks for the production of fuels and chemicals,” said Joel Cherry, director of research activities in second-generation biofuels for Novozymes, one of the collaborating institutions on the study. “This soft rot fungus serves as the world’s most prodigious producer of cellulases and is already a dominant source of a wide variety of cellulase products for the textile industry worldwide. It is also the organism of choice for producing enzymes for the breakdown of cellulosic biomass to fermentable sugars, which can then be biologically converted to fuels and chemical building blocks. The information contained in its genome will allow us both to better understand how this organism degrades cellulose so efficiently and to understand how it produces the required enzymes so prodigiously. Using this information, it may be possible to improve both of these properties, decreasing the cost of converting cellulosic biomass to fuels and chemicals.” __CheckBiotech
At this time, the most efficient process for converting cellulotic biomass to fuels and chemicals is by way of thermochemical conversion and gasification. But even the most efficient forms of thermochemical conversion depend upon parasitic heat processes which lower the overall efficiency--and thus lower profits--of the process. Scientists hope that by learning to cheaply make and tweak (for efficiency) the best enzymes for the job, they can make the biomass-to-fuels/chemicals transformation just a bit more profitable overall. In the business world, sometimes "just a little bit" more profit means the difference between success and failure.

Such subtleties are no doubt lost upon corrupt politicians and make-work bureaucrats, but we are planning to feed them into the pyrolysis plant anyway. ;-)


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Blogger CarlBrannen said...

The effect of this enzyme on cloth reminds me of a visit I made to a biodiesel research plant quite some time ago. It turns out that biodiesel is amazingly good at dissolving rubber. This is something that one has to see to appreciate; it can make quite the disaster in an industrial setting if it's not taken into account.

Somehow I bet a cellulosic ethanol plant is going to be a great place to discover your clothes rotting off yourself.

Monday, 05 May, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

Interesting. I guess the workers will have to go nude!

Tuesday, 06 May, 2008  

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