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Irish Researchers identify exciting new gene for Biofuel industry

Publication Date: 28 July, 2013


A joint research programme between UCD Earth Institute researchers and Teagasc has identifed a fungal gene that has been proven to significantly increase the biological conversion of agricultural residuces such as straw to bioethanol. 

This gene helps the fungus uptake sugars into the cell such that they can be converted to alcohol. One of the most significant fundings of this study is that it also aids the fungus uptake some of the most recalcitrant (so called C5) sugars that are very abundant in materials such as straw, but that are difficult to convert to alcohol. Microbes can be used to convert plant material to biofuels. Microscopic fungi offer a a low-cost, environmentally-benign, self-sustainable method of producing biofuels from straw. They have a natural ability to utilize and ferment cellulosic biomass to fuel. Sugar uptake is important when using microbes to convert plant material to biofuels. Tirish researchers showed that the rate of sugar uptake into a cell is directly correlated with the rate of ethanol production. Irish researchers found that, by increasing the activity of a fungal gene involved  in sugar uptake, they could enhance bioethanol production by almost 30 %.. This finding was part of a funded by the Irish Department of Agricluture Research Stimulus Fund (RSF 07 513) and led by Dr. Fiona Doohan UCD and also involves significant input from the laboraotry of Dr. Ewen Mullins Teagasc, Carlow. The results of this study are published in the latest issue of PLOS ONE.

This study is very timely, since a recent commission proposal published by the EU’s energy commissioner Günther Oettinge outlined the aim to further stimulate and incentivise the lignocellulosic bioethanol industry. Ligonocellulose present the part of the plant that is generally not used as a food, e.g. straw, and thus is offers great promise as a substrate for bioethanol production  because do not infringe on food supplies. Research at UCD and Teagasc is focussed on getting a multiple of products from one crop, e.g. food from grain and biofuel from  straw.

Fungus Fusarium oxysporum