From time to time, I’ll be posting descriptions of inventions or other research discoveries arising in academic or other non-profit laboratories that may enable improved techniques for development or production of renewable fuels, which are available for licensing for commercial development. For each invention, I’ll include a link where you can find further information, as well as contact information for the technology transfer office handling each invention. I welcome questions or comments on these listings, and I would also be happy to hear from tech transfer offices about other inventions for inclusion in later posts.
Metabolic Engineering of Caldicellulosiruptor bescii for the Production of Biofuels and Bioproducts. Caldicellulosiruptor bescii, a thermophilic bacterium with native cellulolytic activity, has a high affinity for decomposing lignocellulosic biomass including agricultural residues such as rice straw, switchgrass, as well as hard- and softwoods. These characteristics make this organism especially appealing for use in biomass processing, but in order to economically produce compounds of economic interest, the organism must be modified to enable its use in industrial processes for the production of biofuels and other commodity chemicals. The inventors have developed methods for genetic manipulation of Caldicellulosiruptor species, for example by introducing genes from Clostridium thermocellum, which is the best-known thermophilic ethanol producer, enabling the production of ethanol and hydrogen from biomass. Other genes from C. thermocellum can similarly be introduced allowing the bacterium to convert acetate to acetaldehyde. These modified strains of C. bescii can be used to economically produce fuels and chemicals from lignoceullolosic feedstocks. Contact: Gennaro J. Gama, Ph.D., Senior Technology Manager, University of Georgia Research Foundation, Inc., Phone: 706-583-8088, Email: GJG@uga.edu. Reference: Case Number 1936.
Chimeric Enzymes with Improved Cellulase Activities. Production of cellulosic biofuels continues to face the challenge of finding cost-effective ways to release the sugars from the complex polymers found in these feedstocks for conversion to ethanol or other fuels. The use of cellulolytic enzymes to catalyze and improve extraction yields of sugars from cellulosic biomass could help to overcome this challenge. The inventors have developed a novel and modified version of cellobiohydrolase from Clostridium thermocellum (CbhA) that exhibits enhanced catalytic activity in the saccharification of cellulose. Clostridium thermocellum has the potential to be used in the production of ethanol, because of its ability to directly convert cellulose to ethanol, which is catalyzed through a cellular surface organelle called a cellusome, which possesses a complex of many different catalytic subunits. This invention provides recombinant methods and molecules for producing chimeric CbhA polypeptides, incorporating polypeptides from other organisms, that exhibit enhanced cellulolytic activity. The chimeric CbhA exhibits cellulolytic activities that are at least two-fold greater than the wild-type CbhA for degrading cellulosic biomass. Contact: Eric Payne, Senior Licensing Executive, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Phone: 303-275-3166, E-mail: email@example.com. Reference: Case Number: NREL ROI 12-33.
Genetically-engineered Microorganism for the Conversion of Feedstock into Fatty Acids. Rutgers University researchers have developed a process for genetically engineering microorganisms for the efficient production of fatty acids. This process makes use of genome-scale flux-balance analysis (FBA) modeling for the in silico design of engineered strains of microbes that overproduce diverse targets, and allows E. coli and other bacteria to be engineered for high-efficiency production of fatty acids, for conversion into biofuel. Although other methods exist for engineering bacteria to produce fatty acids, the advantage of this process is to enhance the efficiency of bacterial production, thus increasing fatty acid yield and reducing process costs. Contact: Rick Smith, MSEE, MBA, Assistant Director, Physical Sciences and Engineering Licensing, Office of Technology Commercialization, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Phone: 732-932-0115 x3010, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Reference: Technology Number 2011-049.
Enhanced Lipid Production in Algae. Algae are considered among the best potential candidates for production of advanced biofuels in view of growing golabl energy concerns. They are an attractive option over terrestrial crops due to their ability to grow fast, produce large quantities of lipids, carbohydrate and proteins, thrive in poor quality waters, sequester and recycle carbon dioxide and remove pollutants from industrial, agricultural and urban wastewaters. This invention features a method to enhance algal biomass productivity (i.e. production of lipids) per unit of area. The method comprises inducing a specific stress into microalgae, which in turn results in increased production of lipids. Lipid productivity increased 70% – 336% over control, which is expected to translate to a corresponding increase in the production of bio-oils per unit of area of growth pond. Contact: Gennaro J. Gama, Ph.D., Senior Technology Manager, University of Georgia Research Foundation, Inc., Phone: 706-583-8088, Email: GJG@uga.edu. Reference: Case Number 1549.
Higher Yielding Biomass Developed Using Newly Discovered Cell Wall Structures and Proteins. In spite of the promise of biomass as a renewable resource, the cost of biomass-based fuels historically has not been competitive relative to oil or other energy resources. A major barrier in converting biomass into fuels is that the complex of cellulose, hemicellulosic and pectic polysaccharides that make up a plant’s cell wall is naturally resistant to degradation by microbes and enzymes, making it hard to free up sugar resources. UGA researchers have created a transgenic plant that has much decreased recalcitrance and increased plant stem and root growth, which will directly translate into higher volumes of convertible sugar. The invention is based on the identification of novel plant cell wall structures in which cell wall pectin and hemicellulose glycans are linked to structural proteins, enabling a substantial reduction in recalcitrance while enhancing plant growth. This new research suggests the existence of a complex proteoglycan network in plant cell walls, which enables a potential new pathway for the development of transgenic plants having more degradable plant biomass available for biofuel production. Contact: Gennaro J. Gama, Ph.D., Senior Technology Manager, University of Georgia Research Foundation, Inc., Phone: 706-583-8088, Email: GJG@uga.edu. Reference: Case Number 1664.
Improved Biochemical Fermentation Utilizing Modified Transgenic Rice and Switchgrass. Biomass is a renewable resource that has shown promise to replace petroleum based fuels. A major barrier in converting lignocellulosic biomass into fuels is that the complex of cellulose, hemicellulosic and pectic polysaccharides that make up a plant’s cell wall is naturally resistant to degradation by microbes and enzymes, making it hard to free up sugar resources. Researchers at The University of Georgia have successfully modified rice and switchgrass, both of which are fast growing and rich in carbohydrates, to create transgenic varieties having improved growth, sugar yield and ethanol yield from fermentation. The invention involves the modification of plant pectins, the complex carbohydrates found in cell walls and other structures, through overexpression of an esterase gene in these plant species. These novel transgenic plants resulted in a larger biomass yield compared to study controls and wild rice. Furthermore, fermentation of sugars extracted from the novel plants led to improved ethanol yield that was18% to 56% greater than that seen from wild-type plants. Contact: Gennaro J. Gama, Ph.D., Senior Technology Manager, University of Georgia Research Foundation, Inc., Phone: 706-583-8088, Email: GJG@uga.edu. Reference: Case Number 1843.
D. Glass Associates, Inc. is a consulting company specializing in government and regulatory affairs support for renewable fuels and industrial biotechnology. David Glass, Ph.D. is a veteran of over thirty years in the biotechnology industry, with expertise in industrial biotechnology regulatory affairs, U.S. and international renewable fuels regulation, patents, technology licensing, and market and technology assessments. Dr. Glass also serves as director of regulatory affairs for Joule Unlimited Technologies, Inc. More information on D. Glass Associates’ regulatory affairs consulting capabilities, and copies of some of Dr. Glass’s prior presentations on biofuels and biotechnology regulation, are available at www.slideshare.net/djglass99 and at www.dglassassociates.com. The views expressed in this blog are those of Dr. Glass and D. Glass Associates and do not represent the views of Joule Unlimited Technologies, Inc. or any other organization with which Dr. Glass is affiliated. Please visit our other blog, Biofuel Policy Watch.