It's not only termites that might help humans make cellulosic ethanol. Researchers at Cornell University have discovered some plant enzymes that could lead to more efficient and cheaper ethanol production from cellulose. These enzymes help break down plant matter "more efficiently than is possible using current technologies," according to a Cornell press release.
The newly discovered class of plant enzymes has a cellulose-binding module (shaded blue in the Cornell graphic) that helps the catalytic region of the enzyme (grey) break down the crystalline cellulose. The release continues:

A critical step in producing cellulosic ethanol involves breaking down a plant's cell wall material and fermenting the sugars that are released. Current technologies use microbial enzymes called "cellulases" to digest the cellulose in grasses and such rapidly growing trees as poplars. The microbial enzymes have a structure that makes them very efficient at binding to and digesting plant cell wall material called lignocellulose (a combination of lignin and cellulose).

The newly discovered enzymes "suggests there might be sets of new plant enzymes to improve the efficiency of cellulose degradation," Jocelyn Rose, Cornell assistant professor of plant biology, said in the release. And credit where credit's due: the lead author of the paper where this discovery is detailed is a graduate student, Breeanna Urbanowicz. Read the rest directly from CU.

[Source: Cornell University via Domestic Fuel]

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