Researchers at UCI’s Institute for Genomics and Bioinformatics (IGB) are using CODA Genomics’ patented gene-protein-production algorithms to tweak the genetic structure of a yeast strain called Saccharomyces. It has the potential to efficiently turn switchgrass, hemp, corn, wood and other natural materials into ethanol – a clean and environmentally safe fuel.
The $1.67m collaboration, which began in September, is funded by CODA Genomics, an Orange County, California synthetic biology company, and a “UC Discovery Grant” that provides matching funds for innovative industry-university research partnerships.
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, such as xylose and arabinose, that are components of biomass.
The bio-engineered version of the yeast will produce enzymes that can help it digest these and other sugars with equal ease, maximising its ethanol production.
Scientists believe the bio-engineered yeast could use 80-90 percent of the sugars in biomass for ethanol production, up from about 20 percent with current technologies.
The multidisciplinary research project involves UCI researchers in the schools of information and computer sciences, engineering and medicine, as well as researchers at CODA Genomics, which spun off in 2005 from UCI research.