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More efficient biofuels from better yeast

Engineers believe a new strain of yeast with increased alcohol tolerance is the first step toward more efficient and economical production of biofuels.

Biofuels are produced through microbial fermentation of biomass crops, which yield the alcohol-based fuels ethanol and iso-butanol if yeast is used as the microbe to convert sugars from biomass into biofuels.

“However, at a certain concentration, the biofuels that are being created become toxic to the yeast used in making them,” says Yong-Su Jin, assistant professor of microbial genomics at the University of Illinois.

“Our goal was to find a gene or genes that reduce this toxic effect.”

Jin worked with Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the microbe most often used in making ethanol, to identify four genes (MSN2, DOG1, HAL1, and INO1) that improve tolerance to ethanol and iso-butanol when they are overexpressed.

“We expect these genes will serve as key components of a genetic toolbox for breeding yeast with high ethanol tolerance for efficient ethanol fermentation,” he says.

Details are published in the August 20 issue of the Journal of Biotechology.

To assess the overexpressed genes’ contribution to the components that have limited biofuel production, the scientists tested them in the presence of high concentrations of glucose (10 percent), ethanol (5 percent), and iso-butanol (1 percent) and compared their performance to a control strain of S. cerevisiae.
 
 

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