An enzyme from a microbe that lives inside a cows stomach is the key to turning corn plants into fuel, according to Michigan State University scientists.
The enzyme that allows a cow to digest grasses and other plant fibers can be used to turn other plant fibers into simple sugars. These simple sugars can be used to produce ethanol to power cars and trucks.
MSU scientists have discovered a way to grow corn plants that contain this enzyme. They have inserted a gene from a bacterium that lives in a cows stomach into a corn plant. Now, the sugars locked up in the plants leaves and stalk can be converted into usable sugar without expensive synthetic chemicals.
The fact that we can take a gene that makes an enzyme in the stomach of a cow and put it into a plant cell means that we can convert what was junk before into biofuel, said Mariam Sticklen, MSU professor of crop and soil science. She is presenting at the 235th national American Chemical Society meeting in New Orleans today. The work also is presented in the Plant Genetic Engineering for Biofuel Production: Towards Affordable Cellulosic Ethanol in the June edition of Nature Review Genetics.
Cows, with help from bacteria, convert plant fibers, called cellulose, into energy, but this is a big step for biofuel production. Traditionally in the commercial biofuel industry, only the kernels of corn plants could be used to make ethanol, but this new discovery will allow the entire corn plant to be used so more fuel can be produced with less cost.
Turning plant fibers into sugar requires three enzymes. The new variety of corn created for biofuel production, called Spartan Corn III, builds on Sticklens earlier corn versions by containing all three necessary enzymes.
The first version, released in 2007, cuts the cellulose into large pieces with an enzyme that came from a microbe that lives in hot spring water.
Spartan Corn II, with a gene from a na
|Contact: Tom Oswald|
Michigan State University