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Microbiologists at TU Muenchen aim to optimize bio-ethanol production
Date:2/3/2011

or instance, that live in the stomachs of cows. In these natural "bio-reactors" they help digest grass and release the sugar. However, the bacteria take a very long time to break down the cellulose. Before cellulose can be transformed into bio-fuel in an efficient and cost-effective way on an industrial scale, the process must improve significantly.

The TUM Department of Microbiology has taken on this task. On the one hand its scientists search through nature's immense microbial diversity for as yet unknown cellulose-degrading enzymes. On the other hand they are isolating new "cellulose-eating" germs from nature in order to examine them more closely. Dr. Schwarz's work group is now taking a closer look at the most promising of these bacteria, Clostridium thermocellum. This soil bacterium has altogether over 70 enzymes that it uses to degrade different parts of plant cell walls. Thanks to this "toolbox" the bacterium can adapt perfectly to its environment. Depending on whether it lives in straw, leaves or waste wood, C. thermocellum produces a different, effective enzyme complex on its surface to degrade the cellulose.

The TUM researchers are now testing this principle in the lab. They want to use the bacterium's toolbox to find ideal enzyme combinations for the industrial degradation of cellulose. To do this they firstly identified the most powerful enzymes and generated them in a test tube. These components were then combined to produce multiple variations, the best of which were selected by the microbiologists. Doctoral candidate Jan Krauss spent three years working on this: "We are now optimizing the most effective combinations for industrial use. Our ultimate goal is to develop a specialized degradation tool for every individual plant waste material containing cellulose. With a bit of luck we will find the perfect enzyme mixtures, which can then become established in bio-ethanol production facilities."

With this research
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Contact: Jana Bodicky
bodicky@zv.tum.de
49-816-171-5403
Technische Universitaet Muenchen
Source:Eurekalert

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