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Plant enzymes may help ethanol production

May 1, 2007 at 12:44 PM

ITHACA, N.Y., May 1 (UPI) -- A U.S. study has identified new plant enzymes that might lead to more efficient and less costly ethanol production from cellulose.

Cornell University researchers discovered a class of plant enzymes that potentially can allow materials used to make ethanol to be broken down more efficiently than possible using current technologies.

Production of ethanol from cellulose in mass quantities that are priced competitively with corn-based ethanol has not yet been possible.

A critical step in producing cellulosic ethanol involves breaking down a plant's cell wall material and fermenting the sugars that are released. Current technologies are limited to using microbial enzymes called "cellulases" to digest the cellulose in grasses and such rapidly growing trees as poplars.

The Cornell researchers have discovered a class of plant enzymes with a similar structure, potentially offering new properties for producing ethanol even more efficiently.

The study involving Professor David Wilson, Assistant Professor Jocelyn Rose, graduate student and first author Breeanna Urbanowicz, and research associate Carmen Catala, appears in the April 20 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

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