MIT Engineers Modify Yeast to Make it More Efficient in Biodieasel Production

Engineers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have genetically edited a strain of yeast to enable it to convert sugars to fats more efficiently. This could advance the renewable production of high-energy fuels.

Renewable fuels made from corn are useful as gasoline additives for running cars. However, large vehicles need more powerful fuels such as diesel. While some have developed engines that run on biodiesel from used cooking oils, it is relatively scarce and expensive. Sugars from sugar cane and corn are cheaper, but must first be converted into lipids before being transformed.

Researchers, led by Gregory Stephanopoulos, modified the yeast Yarrowia lipolytica to improve its efficiency in ethanol production. They transformed the yeast with synthetic pathways that convert surplus NADH, a product of glucose breakdown, to NADPH, which can be used to synthesize lipids. Using this improved pathway, the yeast cells require only two-thirds of the amount of glucose needed by unmodified yeast cells to produce the same amount of oil.

The researchers believe that there is still room for improve the process. They are also exploring using cheaper sources of plant materials, such as grass and agricultural waste.


This article is part of the Crop Biotech Update, a weekly summary of world developments in agri-biotech for developing countries, produced by the Global Knowledge Center on Crop Biotechnology, International Service for the Aquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications SEAsiaCenter (ISAAA)

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