A strategy that uses engineered yeast to enhance biofuel production is reported in Nature Communications this week. As a result of metabolic engineering, the yeast is capable of converting more cellulosic biomass - produced from wood, grasses and inedible plant material - to ethanol than was previously possible.
Microbial conversion of cellulosic, non-edible, biomass to biofuels currently has a number of limitations. A large part of the biomass is made up of xylose, which the microbes struggle to metabolize, and other components lead to the formation of acetic acid during the metabolism. This is toxic to the microbes and so further reduces the productivity. Yong-Su Jin and colleagues have demonstrated that their engineered yeast is capable of metabolizing both xylose and acetic acid, thus making use of more of the biomass and improving productivity and yield.
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