Rare Microbe To Help Make A Better Biofuel

Rare Bug To Help Make A Better Biofuel

Zymetis is testing genetically modified bacteria that efficiently convert biomass into sugar.  

A tiny microbe found in the Chesapeake Bay is the focus of intense study for a biotech startup in College Park, MD. Zymetis has genetically modified a rare, cellulose-eating bacterium to break down and convert cellulose into sugars necessary to make ethanol, and it recently completed its first commercial-scale trial. Earlier this year, the company ran the modified microbe through a series of tests in large fermenters and found that it was able to convert one ton of cellulosic plant fiber into sugar in 72 hours. The trial, researchers say, illustrates the organism’s potential in helping to produce ethanol cheaply and efficiently at industrial scales. Zymetis is now raising the first round of venture capital to bring the technology to commercial applications.

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Time’s Top 10 Scientific Discoveries

Time’s Top 10 Scientific DiscoveriesTime’s Top 10 Scientific Discoveries 

1. Large Hadron Collider

Good news! The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) – the massive particle accelerator straddling the Swiss-French border – didn’t destroy the world! The bad news: The contraption didn’t really work either. In September, the 17-mile collider was switched on for the first time, putting to rest the febrile webchatter that the machine would create an artificial black hole capable of swallowing the planet or at least a sizeable piece of Europe – a bad day no matter what. No lucid observer ever thought that would really happen, but what they did expect was that the LHC would operate as advertised, recreating conditions not seen since instants after the Big Bang and giving physicists a peek into those long-vanished moments. Things looked good at first, until a helium leak caused the collider to shut down after less than two weeks. Repairs are underway and the particles should begin spinning again sometime in June.

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