Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Molecular switch for cheaper biofuel

03.06.2013
The Vienna University of Technology, genetic engineers have found a trick, thanks to which fungi can be used for the production of biofuels far more cost effectively than before

Lignocellulosic waste such as sawdust or straw can be used to produce biofuel – but only if the long cellulose and xylan chains can be successfully broken down into smaller sugar molecules.


This is the mold fungus Trichoderma.
Credit: Vienna University of Technology

To do this, fungi are used which, by means of a specific chemical signal, can be made to produce the necessary enzymes. Because this procedure is, however, very expensive, Vienna University of Technology has been investigating the molecular switch that regulates enzyme production in the fungus. As a result, it is now possible to manufacture genetically modified fungi that produce the necessary enzymes fully independently, thus making biofuel production significantly cheaper.

Recycling Waste, not Wasting Food

Biofuel can be obtained quite easily from starchy plants – but this places fuel production in competition with food production. Manufacturing biofuel from lignocellulose is therefore a preferable option. "Lignocellulose from wood waste or straw is the world's most common renewable raw material but, due to its complex structure, it is significantly more difficult to exploit than starch" explains Prof. Robert Mach from the Institute of Chemical Engineering at Vienna University of Technology.

Over 60 Times More Expensive than Gold

Biofuel manufacturing uses the Trichoderma fungus, which produces enzymes that are capable of breaking down the cellulose and xylan chains into sugar molecules. The fungus does not, however, always produce these enzymes; production must be stimulated using what is known as an 'inductor' (disaccharide sophorose). Sophorose as a pure substance currently has a market value of around EUR 2500 per gram – by way of comparison, one gram of gold costs around EUR 40. "The high costs of the chemical inductor are a decisive price driver in biofuel manufacturing", says Robert Mach.

Permanently Active Thanks to Gene Mutation
Many different strains of fungus have been analysed at Vienna University of Technology, with varying productivity. "In one of the strains, a random mutation occurred, which stopped the chemical switch in the fungus from functioning", reports Robert Mach. Even without an inductor, this mutated fungus always produces the desired enzymes and, unlike other strains of fungus, does not stop doing so once a high glucose concentration has been reached. "In these fungi, the molecular switch is always set to enzyme production", says Christian Derntl, lead author of the recent publication 'Biotechnology for Biofuels'.
Through genetic analysis, it has been possible to identify which gene is required for this behaviour and which protein the gene mutation affects. As a result, it has been possible to induce the same mutation in a targeted fashion in other strains of fungus. "We have understood the mechanism of this molecular switch and, consequently, many wonderful possibilities are opening up for us", says project group leader Astrid Mach-Aigner. Other genetic changes are now being tested in a targeted manner, which may even result in further possibilities for improvement, leading to even more productive fungi. This would make the production of fuel from lignocellulose more economically attractive.

The results of the research have been published in the journal 'Biotechnology for Biofuels': "Mutation of the Xylanase regulator 1 causes a glucose blind hydrolase expressing phenotype in industrially used Trichoderma strains", Derntl et al. Biotechnology for Biofuels 2013, 6:62

For more information, please contact:

Prof. Robert Mach
Institute of Chemical Engineering
Vienna University of Technology
Gumpendorfer Straße 1a, 1040 Vienna
T: +43 (1) 58801 - 166 502
robert.mach@tuwien.ac.at

Florian Aigner | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.tuwien.ac.at

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht How brains surrender to sleep
23.06.2017 | IMP - Forschungsinstitut für Molekulare Pathologie GmbH

nachricht A new technique isolates neuronal activity during memory consolidation
22.06.2017 | Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>