Re-Engineering Yeast for Ethanol Production

Scientists from the University of California, Irvine (UCI) and CODA Genomics are partnering on new research aimed at turning a common yeast strain used in the production of beer, wine and bread into an efficient producer of ethanol.

The researchers at UCI’s Institute for Genomics and Bioinformatics are using CODA Genomics’ patented gene-protein-production algorithms to tweak the genetic structure of Saccharomyces, which has the potential to efficiently turn natural materials into ethanol.

Saccharomyces 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 in biomass, such as xylose and arabinose.

The bio-engineered version of the yeast will produce enzymes that can help it digest other sugars easily, maximizing its ethanol production. According to the scientists, bio-engineered yeast could use 80-90 percent of the sugars in biomass for ethanol production, up from about 20 percent with current technologies.

“We’re trying to build a better yeast strain—one that can produce more ethanol from the same amount of biomass by breaking it down naturally,” said G. Wesley Hatfield, UCI professor emeritus and CODA Genomics co-founder.

CODA’s patented technology uses computer algorithms to design synthetic genes that self-assemble easily and generate protein in large amounts. This allows genes that occur naturally in certain organisms to be re-engineered to meet the needs of different organisms.

Also involved in the multidisciplinary project are researchers from IGB’s Computational Biology Research Laboratory in the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, and biological chemistry and biochemical engineering labs.

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