GLBRC designs new strain of year to boost cellulosic ethanol yields

February 15, 2016 |

In Michigan, an assistant research specialist at the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) has designed a new strain of yeast that could improve the efficiency of making fuel from cellulosic biomass such as switchgrass.

Both the yeast strain and the method of its design could help overcome a significant bottleneck in the biofuels pipeline — namely, that the powerful solvents so good at breaking down biomass also sometimes hinder the next critical step of the process, fermentation.

Using a technique called chemical genomics, Dickinson and Piotrowski set out to engineer a yeast strain that could tolerate ionic liquids. By identifying a number of genes in an industrially relevant yeast strain that, when deleted, either made the yeast sensitive to ionic liquids or resistant to them, they were able to understand the precise nature of ionic liquids’ toxicity to yeast.

This information guided them in successfully engineering a new strain of yeast that not only shows resistance to ionic liquids but also improves sugar conversion and biofuel production. Since removing residual ionic liquid after deconstruction is an added step incurring added expense, the new strain by itself could lower the costs of making biofuels.

And yet the new yeast strain is really only one part of the finding. The technique they used to get there, chemical genomics-guided bio-design, is equally novel, and rich in potential for future applications.

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Category: Research

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