Gene work could make biofuels cheaper

Dec. 27, 2011 at 7:26 AM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 27 (UPI) -- Scientists working for the U.S. government deployed computer-assisted design to tinker with molecules in an effort to make cheaper biofuels, an official said.

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Joint BioEnergy Institute said they were using so-called RNA machines, computer-aided design for RNA engineering that could make it easier to produce biofuels.

Researchers will work on new strains of Escherichia coli, which could more easily digest biomass from switchgrass for use in gasoline, diesel and jet fuels.

"This is a perfect example of how our investments in basic science innovations can pave the way for future industries and solutions to our nation's most important challenges," Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement.

Scientists during the summer found the gene that controls its capacity to produce ethanol in the microorganism Clostridium thermocellum.

The Energy Department announced that, along with the Department of Agriculture, it awarded $12.2 million for 10 separate grants that target improvements in biofuels and bioenergy crops.

A recent U.N. report warned that demand from countries with growing economies, coupled with extreme weather events like the Horn of Africa drought, is complicating food security. The increased use of biofuels, meanwhile, is placing additional strains on agriculture systems normally used for food.

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