Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Microbe could make biofuels hot

A record-breaking microbe that thrives while munching plant material at near boiling temperatures has been discovered in a Nevada hot spring, researchers announced in a study published today. Scientists are eyeing the microbe's enzyme responsible for breaking down cellulose — called a cellulase — as a potential workhouse in the production of biofuels and other industrial processes. Cellulose is a chain of linked sugar molecules that makes up the woody fiber of plants. To produce biofuels, enzymes are required to breakdown cellulose into its constituent sugars so that yeasts can then ferment them into the type of alcohol that makes cars (not people) go vroom. At the industrial scale, this process is done most efficiently at high temperatures that kill other microbes that could otherwise contaminate the reaction, Berkeley Lab's Douglas Clark told me today. More>