Friday, 12 April 2013

Enzymes from horse poop could be key to cheap biofuels

Enzymes from horse poop could be key to cheap biofuels, Enzymes from fungi found in the feces and intestinal tract of horses might open the door to more efficient commercial production of biofuels, Science Daily reported yesterday.

The key to biofuel production is cellulose, which is fermented into alcohols in a process similar to beer production. The problem is that cellulose is contained within a tough network of lignin in plant cells. Breaking down this lignin for biofuel production is a costly process.

However, the discovery of a veritable treasure-trove of enzymes from horse gut fauna could change that, making the wide-scale production of biofuels more cost effective. The fungal enzymes act to both break down lignin and produce cellulose into sugars that the horses can then use.

Previous studies of the gut fauna of large herbivores like cows and horses have focused on bacteria, mainly because bacteria are more numerous and thus easier to cultivate. Fungi do not occur in as great numbers as their bacterial counterparts, but the power and efficiency of their enzymes make up for their smaller numbers.

The next step would be to isolate the genes associated with the most efficient enzymes, and then to genetically engineer them into yeasts. Yeasts, which are single celled fungi, have long been used to produce materials on industrial scales. The powerful enzymes would allow the yeast to produce biofuels from non-food sources, like corn stalks and grass, on a large scale, potentially providing an cost effective alternative to fossil fuels.

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