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Chesapeake bacteria discovery leads to paper biofuels

virus1.jpgIt’s a wonder what you can dig up when you least expect it. Greenbang found £2.31 and a the back end of a half eaten Twix down the back of the sofa. If you’re thinking to yourself that £2.31 won’t buy you much these days, Greenbang suggests you get yourself down Wetherspoons.

Scientists from the University of Maryland spin-off company Zymetis have also been discovering some tasty treats in unexpected places. A bacterium found eating marsh grass in the Chesapeake Bay has turned out to be just the ticket for creating enzymes which break down almost any source of biomass, or plant life, into sugars for ethanol and other biofuels.

Now, using that bacteria, Zymetis has inked a deal with Fiberight, a company that processes cellulosic waste products like non-recycled paper to set up a waste to ethanol venture.

Steve Hutcheson, Zymetis CEO, says the Chesapeake inspired enzymes break down cellulose quicker than anything else out there. And there’s more:

The company’s enzymes are easy to produce, work well in a water-based environment, are active under industrial conditions and rapidly break down plant material — meaning fewer enzymes will be needed to do the work, according to Hutcheson.

An additional challenge, generating improved fuel yields from sugars, is the subject of a new research project Zymetis is conducting with Life Sciences Associate Professor Jonathan Dinman. Dinman is genetically engineering a yeast strain, using genes from the Bay-derived bacterium, to improve the production of ethanol from fermentable sugars by at least a third. The project, worth $112,000, is jointly funded by both the MTECH Maryland Industrial Partnerships (MIPS) Program and the company.

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