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US DOE announces US$40 million for 31 biobased research projects

The United States (US) Department of Energy (DOE) has announced US$40 million in funding for 31 projects to advance research in the development of microbes as practical platforms for the production of biofuels and other bioproducts from renewable resources. The projects will increase the understanding of how nature’s sophisticated production capabilities at the cellular level can be harnessed to produce sustainable, clean and efficient fuel as well as drive other industrial production processes.

In coming years, the revolution in biotechnology and bio-based production methods are expected to transform the face of industry. These projects will help ensure that America continues to lead the way in developing the knowledge and expertise needed to capitalize on the many new opportunities of the emerging bioenergy fields, said US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry.

Over the past decade, DOE-supported scientists have identified and modified a wide range of microbial organisms to be production workhorses, transforming microbes into effective platforms for the generation of fuels and other useful precursor chemicals from renewable plant feedstocks.

Using today’s most advanced techniques of genomics-based systems biology, these projects seek both to improve the production capabilities of already identified organisms and to identify new organisms as potential production platforms. They will modify the organisms to maximize their effectiveness as producers.

Organisms under study range from yeast and fungi to cyanobacteria and rare thermophilic microbes that thrive at extremely high temperatures. Products to be produced range from biofuels to alcohols to other valuable precursor chemicals with multiple possible downstream applications.

In addition to the projects focused on specific microorganisms, approximately one-third of the projects are focused on developing and improving the essential imaging tools for this work of characterizing and modifying organisms on a microscopic scale. Several of the projects also seek to enhance capabilities for real-time “in situ” imaging. This means observing in real-time how nature’s microscopic processes unfold in detail at the cellular level.

Projects were chosen by competitive peer review under two separate DOE Funding Opportunity Announcements, one for Systems Biology of Bioenergy-Relevant Microbes and another for Bioimaging Research for Bioenergy, both sponsored by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research within the Department’s Office of Science.

Total funding is US$40 million for 31 projects lasting three years in duration.

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