Microbiologists at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM) were worried about the food vs fuel crisis and have now turned their heads towards Cellulosic ethanol. The scientists are not using any valuable crops for the ethanol production. Instead, they have decided to use the sugar that is stored in these plants, as Cellulose. Since breaking down of cellulose would affect the stability of the plant, they have narrowed down to use bacteria tat, by nature, are capable of breaking down cellulose. These bacteria are mainly found in the bovine digestive tract, (as mentioned in our previous post:http://biozio.com/blog/2011/01/cows-help-in-making-cellulosic-ethanol.html), and act as natural “bioreactors”.
The research group at TUM, headed by Dr.Schwarz, is presently working with Clostridium thermocelium, which is the most promising soil bacterium. This bacterium has been found to use about 70 enzymes that break down different parts of the cell wall in plants, making it extremely adaptive. The bacterium literally acts like a Chameleon, as it adapts its enzyme producing capabilities based on the part of the plant it thrives in and produces suitable enzyme complexes to degrade cellulose.
Dr.Schwarz’s lab is now concentrating on using the bacterium’s enzymes to find suitable enzyme combinations for the industrial degradation of cellulose.