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Turning fungus into fuel
Date:5/4/2008

LOS ALAMOS, New Mexico, May 4, 2008A spidery fungus with a voracious appetite for military uniforms and canvas tents could hold the key to improvements in the production of biofuels, a team of government, academic and industry researchers has announced.

In a paper published today in Nature Biotechnology, researchers led by Los Alamos National Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute announced that the genetic sequence of the fungus Tricoderma reesei has uncovered important clues about how the organism breaks down plant fibers into simple sugars. The finding could unlock possibilities for industrial processes that can more efficiently and cost effectively convert corn, switchgrass and even cellulose-based municipal waste into ethanol. Ethanol from waste products is a more-carbon-neutral alternative to gasoline.

The fungus T. reesei rose to dubious fame during World War II when military leaders discovered it was responsible for rapid deterioration of clothing and tents in the South Pacific. Named after Dr. Elwyn T. Reese, who, with colleagues, originally isolated the hungry fungus, T. reesei was later identified as a source of industrial enzymes and a role model for the conversion of cellulose and hemicelluloseplant fibersinto simple sugars.

The organism uses enzymes it creates to break down human-indigestible fibers of plants into the simplest form of sugar, known as a monosaccharide. The fungus then digests the sugars as food.

Researchers decoded the genetic sequence of T. reesei in an attempt to discover why the deep green fungus was so darned good at digesting plant cells. The sequence results were somewhat surprising. Contrary to what one might predict about the gene content of a fungus that can eat holes in tents, T. reesei had fewer genes dedicated to the production of cellulose-eating enzymes than its counterparts.

We were aware of T. reeseis
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Contact: James E. Rickman
jamesr@lanl.gov
505-665-9203
DOE/Los Alamos National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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