Taiwan makes advance in biofuel production technique

04/19/2019 03:58 PM
Photo from Academia Sinica Cryo-EM Center
Photo from Academia Sinica Cryo-EM Center

Taipei, April 19 (CNA) Academia Sinica Thursday unveiled a technique that facilitates the production of more biofuel using cryo-electron microscopy, a technology that enables researchers to better capture the structure of enzymes -- biological catalysts that accelerate the process by which biomass is transformed into biofuel.

Considered a source of renewable energy, Biofuels include such fuels as ethanol and biodiesel that are made from biomass materials, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Academia Sinica Cryo-EM Center used cutting edge cryo-electron microscopy to freeze biomolecules and visualize each one at atomic resolution. That made it possible to delineate the structural basis of the pH effect and cofactor bispecificity of an enzyme called ketol-acid reductoisomerase (KARIs).

KARI is the enzyme used in the second step of the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) biosynthetic pathway. The global demand for essential BCAAs, for use in animal feed and human supplements is currently estimated to exceed 1,500 tons per year, making it a multimillion-dollar business, the center said.

In recent years, the BCAA pathway has been used to manufacture biofuels.

In the past, scientists determined the structure of enzymes by X-ray diffraction of their crystallized form. However, it is much harder to crystallize large, unstable, unsoluble enzymes, the center said.

The result of the research, conducted by National Central University assistant professor Chen Chin-Yu (陳青諭) and Academia Sinica distinguished Research Fellow Tsai Ming-Daw (蔡明道), was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society on April 17.

(By Yu Hsiao-han and Chung Yu-chen)

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