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Yeast Rises To A New Occasion

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. A tiny, one-celled organism that turns agricultural wastes into ethanol may be the key to providing car drivers with an inexpensive, clean-burning fuel.

Nancy Ho, a molecular geneticist at Purdue University, has modified the genes of a particular type of yeast so that the tiny organism can convert more of the sugars found in plant matter leftover corn stalks, tree leaves, wood chips, grass clippings, even cardboard boxes into ethanol.

Her nearly 20-year effort to produce the genetically engineered yeast has earned her and her industrial partners an R&D 100 Award, to be given Sept. 24 by R&D Magazine to the developers of the year's 100 most technologically significant products and processes.

Ethanol, a form of alcohol, is a liquid fuel that can be used by itself or blended with gasoline to create "gasohol." When burned, ethanol produces far less air pollution and greenhouse gases than gasoline. Currently, ethanol is produced when yeast ferments the glucose, a form of sugar, found in food crops such as cane sugar, corn and other starch-rich grains. However, Ho says, these crops are expensive and in limited supply, making them too costly to produce ethanol on a large scale. The genetically engineered yeast produces at least 30 percent more ethanol from a given amount of plant material than the unmodified version of the yeast or any other yeast. It is also superstable and does not need to be grown in special nutrients or under special conditions. And the yeast can use agricultural and other organic wastes an abundant, completely renewable domestic resource rather than food crops, a potential benefit to farmers who could gain extra income by selling crop residues to companies that produce ethanol, Ho says.

"This plant material is an ideal and inexpensive feedstock for ethanol fuel production," Ho says. "This gen
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Contact: Amanda Siegfried
amanda_siegfried@uns.purdue.edu
765-494-4709
Purdue University
20-Aug-1998


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