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DOE researchers achieve important genetic breakthroughs to help develop cheaper biofuels
Date:12/22/2011

Washington D.C. Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) announced today a major breakthrough in engineering systems of RNA molecules through computer-assisted design, which could lead to important improvements across a range of industries, including the development of cheaper advanced biofuels. Scientists will use these new "RNA machines", to adjust genetic expression in the cells of microorganisms. This will enable scientists to develop new strains of Escherichia coli (E. coli) that are better able to digest switchgrass biomass and convert released sugars to form three types of transportation fuels gasoline, diesel and jet fuels.

"This is a perfect example of how our investments in basic science innovations can pave the way for future industries and solutions to our nation's most important challenges," said Energy Secretary Steven Chu. "This breakthrough at the Joint BioEnergy Institute holds enormous potential for the sustainable production of advanced biofuels and countless other valuable goods."

A breakthrough with E. coli could make it cheaper to produce fuel from switchgrass or other non-food biomass plants to create advanced biofuels with the potential to replace gasoline. While the work at JBEI remains focused on the development of advanced biofuels, JBEI's researchers believe that their concepts may help other researchers to develop many other desired products, including biodegradable plastics and therapeutic drugs. For example, some researchers have already started a project to investigate how to use the "RNA machines" to increase the safety and efficacy of medicine therapies to treat diseases, including diabetes and Parkinson's.

Biological systems are incredibly complex, which makes it difficult to engineer systems of microorganisms that will produce desired products in predictable amounts. JBEI's work, which will be featured in the December 23rd issue of Science magazine, is
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Contact: Jeff Sherwood
jeff.sherwood@doe.gov
202-586-4940
DOE/US Department of Energy
Source:Eurekalert

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