Biofuels and Biotech

Mon, 11/09/2009 - 12:00pm

I've seen a lot of news on biofuels recently. The most exciting item I came across had to do with KLM scheduling a test flight for an airliner using biofuels. On November 23, KLM plans on operating a flight using Boeing 747 equipment. One of the aircraft engines will be running on a fuel mixture made up of 50% sustainable bio-fuel and 50% traditional kerosene. The airline claims this flight will represent the first flight in Europe on bio-kerosene. It's good to see a major airline embracing a new technology that could lead to cheaper, cleaner fuels.

We're all somewhat familiar with the term biofuel by this point, and it shows the potential to be a great concept. But, for the readers of Bioscience Technology, one of the interesting aspects of this industry is its potential to impact ours. Genomics, for one example, plays a large role in biofuels research and, down the road, industry.

In one recent study published in Genome Research, researchers from Duke University and Brazil sequenced and analyzed the structure of the entire genome of the yeast strain PE-2. The study showed that portions of the genome are plastic compared to other yeast strains. Specifically in the peripheral regions of chromosomes, where they observed a number of sequence rearrangements. These chromosomal rearrangements in PE-2 amplified genes involved in stress tolerance, which likely contributed to the adaptation of this strain to the industrial environment. PE-2 is amenable to genetic engineering, and the authors believe that their work could lead to bioethanol production.


In a second study, also published in Genome Research, researchers from Stanford University and Brazil analyzed the genome structure of industrial bioethanol yeasts, searching for variations in the number of gene copies in five strains employed in Brazil. They found that the studied strains show amplifications of genes involved in the synthesis of vitamins B6 and B1. These gene amplifications confer growth in industrial conditions, indicating that these yeasts may have adapted to limited availability of vitamins in the industrial process in order to gain competitive advantages.


Exciting stuff, and an interesting change from the pharmaceutical-based news that tends to dominate my in box. I'm curious, how many of you out there are working on biofuels projects? This is not a topic we've covered a lot, and that's something I'd like to change. Drop me a line at and let me know what you're working on.



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