For hundreds of thousands of years, wood has been used in everyday life. From being used as fuel to the frame of your house, wood is everywhere! There are many uses for wood, including it being a food substance, not just for other organisms, but for humans as well. Wood is comprised of cellulose, which is one of the most abundant organic compounds on earth. In this article, researchers did a study where they turned the cellulose from wood into a carbohydrate that humans consume daily, starch.
Plants produce approximately 180 billion tons of cellulose a year, and only in the past few years have companies started to use the cellulose for biofuels. But now there may be another new use for cellulose.
Bioprocess engineer Y.-H. Percival Zhang, of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and his colleagues focused on cellulose and starch and the similarities between the two. Starch makes up to 40% of people’s diets, basically a majority of our diet compared to other things people consume. Cellulose, as many of us know, is made up of sugar glucose molecules, as is starch. They are just bonded in different ways.
To begin their research, Zhang and colleagues took genes from certain species of bacteria, fungi and potatoes in order to obtain the necessary enzymes. The enzymes they needed were used in a few different steps. The first set of enzymes were used to break down the cellulose to cellobiose, and the second set of enzymes were then used to split the cellobiose apart into glucose molecules and a molecule named G-1-P.
So far the final product is a white powder that can be added to food with no taste at the beginning, but after some chewing it tasted “slightly sweet.” Once this process was over, the left over cellulose was turned into glucose, which was then turned into biofuel.
Even though this idea works, it is still not perfected on the financial part. In order to have 200 kilograms of cellulose into 20 kilograms of starch, it would cost about $1 million! Hopefully in the near future, people can take this idea and make it not only more productive in the amount produce, but also a lot cheaper to spread around the world!
Posted by: Cynthia Bui (1)