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How now, inside the cow: Nearly 30,000 novel enzymes for biofuel production improvements
Date:1/27/2011

This release is available in Spanish and French.

WALNUT CREEK, Calif.Cows eat grassthis has been observed for eons. From this fibrous diet consisting mainly of the tough to degrade plant cell wall materials cellulose and hemicellulose, substances of no nutritional value to most animals, ruminants manage to extract all they need to nourish themselves, their progeny and their keepers. And now, the cow, or rather the network of organisms working unseen in the cow's forestomach or rumen, is providing researchers with vital information that may someday accelerate the large-scale deployment of biofuels. This will offer a window into a major category of microbes that has long resisted the attempts of scientists to grow and study.

Through massive-scale DNA sequencing, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Joint Genome Institute (JGI) and the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI), have characterized the genes and genomes of plant-digesting microbes isolated from the cow rumen and reported their results in a study published January 28 in the journal Science. One of the challenges associated with developing alternative fuels from plants has been the high cost and energy inputs that are associated with the processing plant biomass so that it can be more easily converted into sugars and from there into biofuels to address our transportation needs.

"Microbes have evolved over millions of years to efficiently degrade recalcitrant biomass," said Eddy Rubin, Director of the JGI and a lead on this study. "Communities of these organisms can be found in diverse ecosystems, such as in the rumen of cows, the guts of termites, in compost piles, as well as covering the forest floor. Microbes have solved this challenge, overcoming the plant's protective armor to secure
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Contact: David Gilbert
degilbert@lbl.gov
925-296-5643
DOE/Joint Genome Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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How now, inside the cow: Nearly 30,000 novel enzymes for biofuel production improvements
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