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Published on April 13th, 2008 | by Carol Gulyas


Gene from Cow's Stomach Engineered to Create More Affordable Biofuel

April 13th, 2008 by  

368560451_0903c8cd6b_s.jpgAs we pointed out in an earlier posting, one of the problems with biofuels such as corn-based ethanol is that they are diverting food crops from food source to fuel source. Miriam Sticklen, a crop and soil scientist from Michigan State University, announced this week that she has used an enzyme from a cow’s stomach to create a new strain of corn.

This new kind of corn, in an ideal scenario, would allow the kernels to be used as food, while the (formerly) wasted part of the corn plant could be converted to biofuel. A gene from a cow’s stomach, one of the most effective digesters of plant sugars in the world, is implanted into a corn cell using genetic engineering, fundamentally changing the corn plant. As reported in Biofuels Journal:

“Cows, with help from bacteria, convert plant fibers, called cellulose, into energy, but this is a big step for biofuel production. Traditionally in the commercial biofuel industry, only the kernels of corn plants could be used to make ethanol, but this new discovery will allow the entire corn plant to be used — so more fuel can be produced with less cost…..Now, the sugars locked up in the plant’s leaves and stalk can be converted into usable sugar without expensive synthetic chemicals.”

Why is this so troubling? Let me count the ways:

  1. It doesn’t address any of the larger issues, such as:
  2. The pollution caused by large-scale corn production, such as pesticide and fertilizer runoff;
  3. The petroleum used to create the synthetic fertilizers, and to harvest the corn;
  4. The unknown consequences of releasing this genetically modified food into the environment.

This tunnel-vision approach sacrifices eco-effectiveness on the altar of efficiency. And, once again, we’re side-stepping the issues so that the corn lobby can continue to party on at taxpayer’s expense. 


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About the Author

Carol Gulyas is a leader in the renewable energy community in Illinois, where she serves as VP of the Board of the Illinois Solar Energy Association. Recently she co-founded EcoAchievers -- a provider of online education for the renewable energy and sustainable living community. She spent 18 years in the direct marketing industry in New York and Chicago, and is currently a teaching librarian at Columbia College Chicago. Carol grew up in a small town in central Indiana, then lived in the Pacific Northwest, Lima, Peru, and New York City. She is inspired by reducing energy consumption through the use of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and green building technology.

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