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DOE's $375M for Bioenergy Centers Fuels Genomics and Systems Bio Science

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The US Department of Energy plans to fund its three Bioenergy Research Centers, which pursue a range of genomic and systems biology research projects for biofuel development, with $375 million over the next five years, DOE said on Thursday.

The funding will provide $25 million annually to each of the three BRCs, including Oak Ridge National Laboratory's BioEnergy Research Center (BESC); the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC), which is led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison in partnership with Michigan State University; and the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Over the next five years, through 2018, the centers will focus on advancing new methods and discoveries they have developed over the past five years, developing new research lines, and speeding the translation of innovative science into technologies that can be taken to market.

The BRCs have generated over 1,100 peer-reviewed publications and more than 400 invention disclosures or patent applications, including new methods for engineering non-food crops for biofuel production, re-engineered microbes for biofuel production, and methods for growing biofuel crops on marginal lands, the agency said.

Research at JBEI, for example, has emphasized developing synthetic biology-based methods, such as engineering strains of E. coli bacteria that can digest switchgrass biomass and synthesize its sugars into gasoline, diesel, or jet fuel without the use of any enzyme additives, JBEI said yesterday.

Broadly, the centers have been tasked with pursuing three grand challenges: to develop next-generation bioenergy crops; to discover and design enzymes and microbes with biomass-degrading capabilities; and to develop transformational microbe-mediated strategies for biofuel production, according to DOE.

JBEI said that the centers have been subjected to "rigorous outside evaluation, with annual reviews by independent peer review teams," and they have received "consistently high marks" from outside reviewers for their scientific productivity, effective management, and the integration of their research efforts.

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