UW-Madison researchers have been awarded federal grants to investigate using the bacteria in toxic algae and cow stomachs in the development of biofuels, according to a release from the UW-Madison news service.
Jennifer Reed, an assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering, and Garret Suen, an assistant professor of bacteriology, each received five-year, $750,000 early career awards from the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research.
Reed is working on producing the biofuel butanol by using cyanobacteria found in blue-green algae, the source of the toxic algae blooms, by “tweaking” genes in the bacteria.
She said computer modeling of the bacteria’s complex metabolic system could have future implications.
“The general tools we develop will be more broadly applicable to people interested in metabolic engineering,” Reed said.
Reed is a researcher at UW-Madison’s Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center.
Suen is using the microbes found in cow stomachs to break down cellulose, a major component in plant biomass.
“Arguably, the most optimized natural cellulose degrading system is found in the rumen of domesticated cows,” Suen said. “The rumen contains a diverse group of bacteria with highly active enzymes that digest cellulose in feed and convert this energy source into nutrients usable by the cow.”
And possibly, someday usable in the biofuel industry.
“As we’ve domesticated the cow, we’ve also domesticated their microbes to be efficient at digesting plant biomass,” Suen said.