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Paving the way to more efficient biofuel production

 

Narrator:       This is Science Today. A new, high-yield source of energy may pave the way to a more efficient production of biofuel.  Geneticist George Chuck of the University of California, Berkeley, has genetically modified switchgrass, which is a potential biofuel crop. Chuck explains that they added a corn gene to make switchgrass produce more starch.

Chuck:           Our plants never flower and so their starch levels just build up and up and up and they get really high. And starch is really easy to digest to simple sugars to make things like ethanol or biofuel.  Our plants have greater than 2.5 times more starch compared to normal plants.

Narrator:       Being stuck in the juvenile phase also means that Chuck's switchgrass plants also produce less lignin, a tough structural material that has to be broken down in an expensive pretreating process before the plants can be converted to biofuel.

Chuck:           With our plants, you don't have to pre-treat, so there's this huge cost savings.  All you have to do is grind it up and you have to add this enzyme to degrade all the starch and that automatically gets you the sugar, and then the sugar you use to ferment to make ethanol.

Narrator:       For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.