Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
AgriGenomics
Scientific Community
 
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article
  News
Return

Enzymes from Horse Feces Could Hold Secrets to Streamlining Biofuel Production

Published: Monday, April 15, 2013
Last Updated: Monday, April 15, 2013
Bookmark and Share
Scientists described the discovery of a potential treasure-trove of candidate enzymes in fungi thriving in the feces and intestinal tracts of horses.

They reported on these enzymes — the key to economical production of biofuels from non-food plant material — at the 245th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). More than 14,000 scientists and others are expected for the meeting of ACS, the world’s largest scientific society, which continues here through Thursday.

Michelle A. O'Malley, Ph.D., explained that cellulose is the raw material for making biofuels from non-food plant materials. Cellulose, however, is sealed away inside a tough network of lignin within the cell walls of plants. To produce biofuels from these materials, lignin must be removed through an expensive pretreatment process. Then, a collection of enzymes breaks cellulose down into sugars. Finally, in a process much like production of beer or wine, those sugars become food for microbes to ferment into alcohol for fuel, ingredients for plastics and other materials.

“Nature has made it very difficult and expensive to access the cellulose in plants. Additionally, we need to find the best enzyme mixture to convert that cellulose into sugar,” O’Malley said. “We have discovered a fungus from the digestive tract of a horse that addresses both issues — it thrives on lignin-rich plants and converts these materials into sugars for the animal. It is a potential treasure trove of enzymes for solving this problem and reducing the cost of biofuels.”

The digestive tracts of large herbivores like cows and horses, which can digest lignin-rich grasses, have been a well-trodden path for scientists seeking such enzymes. But in the past, their focus has been mainly on enzymes in bacteria, rather than fungi, which include yeasts and molds. The goal: Take the genes that produce such enzymes from gut fungi and genetically engineer them into yeasts. Yeasts already are used in time-tested processes on an industrial scale to produce huge quantities of antibiotics, foods and other products. That proven production technology would mean clear sailing for commercial production of biofuels.

O’Malley explained that several genes from gut fungi are unique compared to bacteria, since the fungi grow invasively into plant material. Also, they secrete powerful enzyme complexes that work together to break down cellulose. Until now, however, fungi have largely been ignored in the search for new biofuel enzymes — and for good reason.

“There was relatively little scientific knowledge about fungi in the digestive tracts of these large animals,” O’Malley explained. “They are there, but in very low numbers, making it difficult to study. The low concentrations also fostered a misconception that fungi must be unimportant in digestion of cellulose. And it is extremely difficult to isolate and grow these fungi to study their enzymes.”

O’Malley’s research group at the University of California, Santa Barbara, collaborated with researchers at the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. They worked with a gut fungus isolated from horse feces and identified all the genetic material that the fungus uses to manufacture enzymes and other proteins. This collection of protein-encoding material — the fungus’s so-called “transcriptome” — led to the identification of literally hundreds of enzymes capable of breaking through that tough lignin in plant cell walls and the cellulose within. The team now is shifting through that bounty to identify the most active enzyme and working on methods for transferring the genetic machinery for its production into the yeast currently used in industrial processes.


Further Information

Join For Free

Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 3,200+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More than 4,600+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters


Sign In



Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into TechnologyNetworks.com you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

Making Cashews Safer for Those with Allergies
Scientists now develop a method to process cashews to make them safer to eat.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., Describes Biofuels, Vaccines and Foods from Made-to-Order Microbes
Scientists are using decades of knowledge garnered from sequencing or “reading” the genetic codes of thousands of living things to now start writing new volumes in the library of life.
Monday, March 26, 2012
First evidence that weed killers improve nutritional value of a key food crop
Scientists are reporting for the first time that the use of weed killers in farmers' fields boosts the nutritional value of an important food a crop
Friday, July 10, 2009
Scientific News
“Amazing Protein Diversity” Discovered in Maize
The genome of the corn plant – or maize, as it’s called almost everywhere except the US – “is a lot more exciting” than scientists have previously believed. So says the lead scientist in a new effort to analyze and annotate the depth of the plant’s genetic resources.
Invasive Species Could Cause Billions in Agriculture Damages
Invasive insects and pathogens could be a multi-billion-dollar threat to global agriculture and developing countries may be the biggest target, according to a team of international researchers.
Genetic Research Can Significantly Improve Drug Development
With drug development costs topping $1.2bn (£850 million) to get a single treatment to the point it can be sold and used in the clinic, could genetic analysis save hundreds of millions of dollars?
What Makes a Good Scientist?
It’s the journey, not just the destination that counts as a scientist when conducting research.
Scoliosis Linked to Disruptions in Spinal Fluid Flow
A new study in zebrafish suggests that irregular fluid flow through the spinal column brought on by gene mutations is linked to a type of scoliosis that can affect humans during adolescence.
More Research Needed to Ensure Gene Drive Safety
Gene-Drive modified organisms are not ready to be released into environment a new report calls for more research and robust assessment.
Genetic Basis of Petunia Variation Uncovered
A large international team of researchers, including scientists from Wageningen University, have now sequenced the entire genome of two different wild petunia species, and published this in the important scientific journal Nature Plants.
Genetically Engineered Crops Are Safe
Distinction between genetic engineering and conventional plant breeding becoming less clear, says new report on GE crops.
Breeding More Climate Resilient Brassicas
Scientists at the John Innes Centre have discovered how a gene that helps determine plant flowering time could help us breed better brassicas in the face of climate change.
One Step Closer To Developing Non-Allergenic 'Super' Peanuts
Scientists from The University of Western Australia have joined a global research team that have identified genes in peanuts that when altered will be able to prevent an allergic response in humans.
Skyscraper Banner

SELECTBIO Market Reports
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
 
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
3,200+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
4,600+ scientific videos
Close
Premium CrownJOIN TECHNOLOGY NETWORKS PREMIUM FOR FREE!