Bioengineering has been through myriad debates questioning if it is an ethical form of scientific research, however as research continues a plethora of benefits are being realized in this field of science. Recently a major subject of debate has been not on the ethics of biotechnology but a solution to maintaining balance between using farmlands for food or biofuel production. Clever research from scientists may have solutions to bring us closer to the goal of managing this harmony.
New research may allow the production of biofuels such as biodiesel to become more cost efficient as a viable source of energy production. Caldicellulosiruptor bescii is bacteria that forms in geothermal freshwater hot springs primarily found in places like Russia and Yellowstone National Park. A study from Janet Westpheling published out of the University of Georgia in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” shows that a bioengineered version of this bacteria could help provide greater conversions of biofuel harvests from plants such as switch grass and miscanthus. Janet Westpheling, a Professor for the Department of Genetics from University of Georgia, and her colleagues from BioEnergy Science Center, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, were able to successfully use bioengineered C. bescii organism to break apart unusable plant biomass for biofuels.
The benefits of this new solution could help to overcome one of the biggest problems in making biodiesel products safely, efficiently and in a cost effective manner. With this research it may soon be possible to use a small and relatively cheap amount of bacteria to convert plants like switch grass, once thought to be an unprofitable crop, into an environmentally friendly energy source. Using systems biology is the trick that geneticists use to make an organism perform a desired function that it could not naturally perform. Bacterium can currently produce chemicals that may be viable alternatives to petroleum such as ethanol, isobutanol and butanol.
Another twist in genetic research has come about from the study of how plants defend themselves against diseases. From the Wageningen Agricultural University in the Netherlands, Pierre de Wit has been studying the genes that are responsible for providing plants resistances to pathogens. By manipulating these genes it is possible to breed plants used for food crops to be more resistant against pathogens that can spread quickly through agricultural communities.
His research has found that a plant’s defense system contains a layered receptor system, both inside and outside the cell walls, which are interconnected and send signals once an intrusive pathogen is detected. Each of these receptors can provide a different response system to neutralize the pathogens depending on how they are detected. The first consists of Pattern-triggered immunity (PTI) which seeks to neutralize pathogens on the surface of the cell. Effector-triggered immunity (ETI) is the second line of defense is detected by the plant’s genes once the pathogen has reached the inside of a plant’s cell walls.
This research has enlightened botanists, particularly those concerned in plant pathology, as the defense system of plants appears vastly more complex than once thought. By genetically engineering the genes that are responsible for the detection of pathogens it is believed that biologists can help boost a plant’s immune system similar to how the human immune system has evolved to make some diseases virtually extinct in humans today.Tags: bioengineering, biofuels, pathogens, plant pathology