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Bacterium breaks down grass into biofuel


Research reports the discovery of the first microorganism that anaerobically degrades plant biomass, without the need for chemical pre-treatment, to produce raw materials that can be converted to biofuels.

Scientists in the United States demonstrated that Caldicellulosiruptor bescii bacterium was able to degrade insoluble switchgrass biomass at 78 oC. Biomass typically needs to be pretreated with strong acids at high temperatures to break it down into usable raw materials for biofuel conversion, but current industrial pre-treatment processes are inefficient and expensive, and can pollute the environment.

Analysis of the culture after incubation with C. bescii showed that the bacterium had broken down all three components of insoluble biomass – cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin, which is notoriously difficult to degrade. No other anaerobic mircroorganism that can degrade lignin is currently known.

Original publication:

I Kataeva et al, Energy Environ. Sci., 2013

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