People use enzymes to create fuels from plants, fungi to produce antimalarial drugs, and E. coli bacteria to generate life-saving insulin. These systems are attractive because they are sustainable and rely on renewable plant biomass, but they are still wildly inefficient.
Kevin Solomon, a Purdue assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, plans to improve the efficiency by using giraffe, wildebeest, zebra and horse dung and a U.S. Department of Energy Career Award, which supports the development of research programs by outstanding scientists early in their careers. The DOE will provide $750,000 over five years to fund his proposal, “Genetic Tools to Optimize Lignocellulose Conversion in Anaerobic Fungi and Interrogate Their Genomes.”
“Nature and biological processes are good at fixing carbon dioxide and turning it into biomass. But we want to break the chemicals in that biomass back into sugars that we can convert into a wide array of products,” Solomon said. “However, if breaking down trees were easy, they wouldn’t exist.”