Mascoma, Dartmouth create high-yielding bacteria

By Ryan C. Christiansen | September 08, 2008
Web exclusive posted Sept. 16, 2008 at 2:24 p.m. CST

Researchers from Boston-based Mascoma Corp. and Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., have genetically engineered a thermophilic bacterium that can be used in the fermentation process to produce only ethanol.

Using proprietary microorganisms and enzymes developed at the company's laboratories in Lebanon, N.H., Mascoma is collaborating with research partners to identify, patent and deploy a new generation of microbes and low-cost processes for producing advanced cellulosic ethanol technologies using a wide range of non-food feedstocks.

The thermophilic bacterium discovery is the first step in developing ethanol-producing microbes that can make ethanol from cellulosic biomass without adding enzymes, according to Lee Lynd, the chief scientific officer and co-founder of Mascoma, who is also a distinguished professor of environmental engineering design at the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth. Lynd's findings were published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science journal.

"Our discovery is one potential avenue for research to facilitate turning inedible cellulosic biomass, including wood, grass, and various waste materials, into ethanol," Lynd said. "In the near term, the thermophilic bacterium we have developed is advantageous, because costly cellulase enzymes typically used for ethanol production can be augmented with [this] less expensive, genetically engineered new organism."

In the journal article, Lynd reported engineering the ALK2 strain of Thermoanaerobacterium saccharolyticum, a thermophilic anaerobic bacterium that ferments xylan and biomass-derived sugars to produce ethanol at high yields and as the only detectable organic product. The ALK2 strain produced the highest reported ethanol yield thus far for a thermophilic anaerobe, the report said.