Developments with macro-algae
Researchers from the University of Illinois have developed a new super-efficient strain of yeast that can easily break down red seaweed into biofuel. The new development could help small island nations and other sea-bound regions grow biofuel crops without giving up scarce land resources that are needed to grow food. But it also opens up some challenges down the road as human use of the marine environment increases.
Seaweed is macro-algae and has the basic advantages of algae-fuels such as the relative absence of hard fibers that are difficult to break down into sugars. Seaweeds that come under the marine biomass category, degrades much more easily than land crops, but there is still a catch. When red seaweed is broken down it yields both glucose and galactose (a less “sweet” form of sugar), and until now it has been difficult to find an efficient fermentation process for galactose. The University of Illinois team identified three genes in a common microbe, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, that can be pumped up to increase galactose fermentation by 250 percent.