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Cow stomach enzymes to produce cellulosic biofuel

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Since the last decade, biofuel has been a hotly discussed topic among scientists. Corn-based ethanol has slowly become one of the major alternative fuels worldwide. Its popularity has even caused the price of the crop to surge. As scientists look into new sources of alternative fuel, they need to solve a critical issue. It is the breakdown of the tough cellulose that makes up the cell wall of plant cells from which biofuels are derived.

The commercial breakdown cellulose is costly and harmful to the environment. Scientists, therefore, make a great effort to identify natural biological agents to decompose cellulose. Termites furnish some powerful decomposing enzymes, but the quantity of which is insufficient to make conversion of cellulose to biofuel economical on an industrial scale. Recent advances have shed light on the isolation of many more cellulose-digesting enzymes from the cow’s stomach. Eddy Rubin and his colleagues from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute published in the January 2011 issue of Science about their discovery of 30,000 new enzymes from cow’s rumen.

The identification of the new enzymes enables a more efficient conversion of cellulose to biofuels. Hence, the biofuel will be more affordable to everyone. The generation of a large quantity alternative fuel will potentially alleviate the energy crisis and stabilize the price of oil and its supply.


“Something to Chew on: Researchers Look Inside Cow Stomachs for Leg Up on Next-Gen Biofuels” by Mike Orcutt, published on January 27, 2011 on Scientific American