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CODA Genomics, UC Irvine Aim to Turn Yeast Into Biofuel Producer

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) — CODA Genomics and the University of California, Irvine aim to turn a commonly used yeast strain into an efficient biofuel producer, the university said Tuesday.
The project seeks to alter the genetic structure of Saccharomyces to allow it to turn sugars into ethanol at a feasible rate, which could enable the product to be used as an efficient biofuel.
The research will be paid through a $1.67 million grant from CODA Genomics and a UC Discovery Grant that provides matching funds for industry-university research partnerships.
Specific terms of the alliance, which kicked off Sept. 1, call for scientists at UCI’s Center for Genomics and Bioinformatics Researchers to use CODA Genomics’ gene-protein-production algorithms to “tweak” the genetic structure of a strain of Saccharomyces so it may be able to efficiently turn switchgrass, hemp, corn, wood, and other natural materials into ethanol.
Saccharomyces is typically used to help produce bread, beer, and wine. It produces ethanol as a byproduct when it ferments sugars found in plant materials. In its natural state, the yeast processes the glucose that grows in these materials, but does not contain the necessary enzymes to process other sugars, such as xylose and arabinose, that are components of biomass, UCI said in a statement.
“The bio-engineered version of the yeast will produce enzymes that can help it digest these and other sugars with equal ease, maximizing its ethanol production,” the school added.
The hope is that the yeast will be able to use between 80 percent and 90 percent of the sugars in biomass to create ethanol, compared with roughly 20 percent used by current technologies, UC Irvine said.
Wesley Hatfield, the UC Irvine professor and principal investigator on the project, said that “while there currently are yeast strains that can make ethanol from biomass, the existing process is very expensive and inefficient.”

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