Gene technology for sustainable development

July 12 2021
By Ursula

New solutions in all areas of science and technology are required to meet the challenges we are facing to address the WHO sustainable development goals. Gene technology is often not linked to sustainable development. However, environmental risk assessment, biosafety and biosecurity, can function as gatekeeper to assure that production and products using gene technology are sustainable.

For instance, a recent article in Science News caught my attention which commented work done by Lam et al., to harvest ethanol from cornstalks and harvest’s other leftovers.

Lam et al. published their results on engineering of yeast tolerant to toxified lignocellulosic feedstocks for efficient production of renewable fuels and chemicals from this otherwise unharnessed biomass in Science Magazine 25 June 2021.

Pretreatments needed to deconstruct the highly recalcitrant plant fibers into fermentable sugars typically result in feedstocks toxic to microorganisms. Their genetically modified Saccharomyces cerevisiae strain tolerates a broad diversity of highly toxified genuine microbial feedstocks and consistently achieves industrial-scale titers of cellulosic ethanol of >100 grams per liter when toxified, a performance comparable to current clean sugar ethanol. With modification of a single gene, GRE2, and no further engineering, Lam et al. state that this mechanism can be easily adopted on synthesizing a biodegradable plastic and to enable cellulosic products beyond ethanol.

The presented solution offers a reduction of dependence on specific crop types or pre-treatments and ameliorate the supply variability and enables production conditions of minimized contaminant growth. Even though, according to Lam, there are other problems to be solved along the road to ‘challenge the reign of fossil fuels’, he thinks, that the findings of his team can kick-start a ‘renewable pipeline’.