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Garbage Bacteria May Cut Biofuel Production Costs

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Xylan, the most common molecular motif of hemicellulose

A new species of bacterium, which was later named Caldanaerobius polysaccharolyticus, has been discovered in a garbage dump in Illinois that increases biofuel yield from plants by breaking down the hemicellulose, a major component of a plant’s cell wall that are not broken down by bacterial species currently used in biomass fermentation.

One major challenge in biofuel production is the low yield of fermentation process due to the limitation of currently used fermenting bacteria. These bacteria can only degrade cellulose into simple sugars and not the other plant component, hemicellulose. This allows the biomass industry to use up only less than half of the plant’s liable sugars.

The new species of bacterium has been discovered by researchers at Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) to break down xylan, the most common hemicellulose.

In addition, the species Caldanaerobius polysaccharolyticus is a thermophilic (heat-loving) microbe, which thrives in warmer temperatures as high as 70oC. This prevents other bacteria, which survives 37oC, from contaminating the fermentation system.

The next step for EBI is to incorporate the bacterium’s gene, which is relatively large, into the microbes that are currently being used in biomass fermentation, and be able to finally test their biofuel yield.

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