Researchers are digging for golden possibilities in the dirtiest of places.
The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Bioproduct Chemistry and Engineering Research Unit in Albany, Ca., is working to identify those enzymes that excel in degrading plant cell walls. The prime hunting ground is to draw sample of murky liquid from dairy-waste lagoons and the dank soil beneath 25' high piles of decaying rice straw.
In the battle for more ethanol yield, these super enzymes present new possibilities. Bioenergy crops such as switchgrass are built with a tight matrix of compounds in the walls of their cells. Cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin make the cell walls difficult to break down, which results in cellulosic ethanol more costly and complex to refine compared to ethanol from starch.
One promising candidate was sourced from the dairy lagoon. This microbe with a gene researchers have named xyn8 contains the blueprint for xylanase. This enzyme specializes in the breaking down the troublesome component xylan which is found in the hemicellulose of plant cell walls.
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