Yum, self-digesting corn creates delicious ethanol

Cellobiase Corn

First of all, I think it should be said that the whole corn-as-fuel idea is a red herring when it comes to alternative energy. The corn industry is a bloated mess and throwing the demands of widespread biofuel use into the mix would probably push it beyond the breaking point and make for some really weird corn politics.

That said, if the process of fueling some things with corn is made easier and more efficient, there’s no reason why it couldn’t be used on a limited scale where it’s cost-effective. That’s why I’m glad advances like this one are being made. Dr. Mariam Sticklen at Michigan State University has been researching ways in which the most stubborn part of the corn plant can be easily broken down. She’s come up with three different strains of modified corn, each one with a different method of cellulose breakdown, each copied from a different microorganism.

The corn keeps the breakdown enzymes in vacuoles its stems and leaves, not in its seeds and pollen, which Sticklen says will prevent the plant from fertilizing other crops with the enzyme-producing gene. That doesn’t sound right to me; the gene would be found in the DNA of every cell, regardless of whether that cell produced the breakdown enzyme or not. Of course, unlike her I do not have a PhD in Bioengineering, so I’ll have to defer to her on this one.