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Plant genetic engineering to improve biomass characteristics for biofuels

Mariam Sticklen
Current Opinion in Biotechnology 2006, 17 (3): 315-9
16701991
Currently, most ethanol produced in the United States is derived from maize kernel, at levels in excess of four billion gallons per year. Plant lignocellulosic biomass is renewable, cheap and globally available at 10-50 billion tons per year. At present, plant biomass is converted to fermentable sugars for the production of biofuels using pretreatment processes that disrupt the lignocellulose and remove the lignin, thus allowing the access of microbial enzymes for cellulose deconstruction. Both the pretreatments and the production of enzymes in microbial tanks are expensive. Recent advances in plant genetic engineering could reduce biomass conversion costs by developing crop varieties with less lignin, crops that self-produce cellulase enzymes for cellulose degradation and ligninase enzymes for lignin degradation, or plants that have increased cellulose or an overall biomass yield.

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