Highlights Environmental Biotechnology
1. In making ethanol, the simplest/easiest sources of food for the microorganisms producing it is the same food that humans would eat. There is a lot of interest in using non-human sources of biomass to use for making biofuels.
2. In a sense, we already use non-human sources of biomass (grass or hay, for example) to produce human food. Cows, for example are ruminants, which means they have a specialized stomach called a rumen that has microorganisms in it that can digest the cellulose found in plants. These bacteria have a enzyme called cellulase that converst cellulose into glucose. The glucose can then be used for energy. Humans do not have cellulase.
3. There is also interest in using microorganisms as agents of bioremediation. Bioremediation involves using bacteria/microorganisms to break down toxic substances and render them harmless. Examples include oil spills or toxic compounds in ground water.
4. One example of a very toxic compound that has been found in groundwater is perfluoro-octanoic acid (PFOA). PFOA is a compound that is used to adhere the non-stick surface to cookware. PFOA has been linked to cancer and other serious health problems. Heating a pan to 700 degrees can release PFOA. Canaries, for example, can die if kept in a room where a non-stick pan catches fire.
5. Speaking of toxic chemicals, 100 chemicals make up 99% of the bulk of all industrial chemicals.
6. Silent mining involves using bacteria/microorganisms as tools for obtaining materials from the earth. Examples include copper mining. In copper mining, copper sulfide in the ground is relatively insoluble in water, but if bacteria can oxidize the copper to copper sulfate, the latter is much more water soluble and can much more easily be extracted.
7. Another consideration in silent mining involves extracting oil from oil fields. Approximately 2/3 of the oil of a field is left in the ground after a well is "dry". Removing the remaining oil may be facilitated by bacteria that help emulsify the oil.
8. Biodegradable wrapping materials are also desirable compared to plastic. Common ones used include Pollulan, an undigestible glucose polymer that is degradable by bacteria when it gets wet. Another example is polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB), which is a biodegradable alternative to polyethylene.
Highlights Green Biotechnology
1. In green biotechnology, we consider biotechnologies as alternative food sources for humans. Spirulina is an interesting food made from blue-green algae. It produces 10 times the biomass per acre compared to wheat. The protein cost, however, is still high - 500 times greater than producing protein in soybeans. There is enormous potential for this, however, because they can double their weight in 20 minutes to 2 hours and rely mainly on sunlight as an energy source.
2. Yeast can form protein 100,000 times faster than cows. Cows only produce one kilogram of protein per 11 kilograms of plant material.
3. Photosynthesis is ultimately the source for all energy used by life on earth. Plants capture light energy using chlorophyll. It is important to remember that photosynthesis involves more than energy capture. Plants also take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during photosynthesis and use it to make glucose. The energy from the sun provides the energy necessary to make the glucose. The enzyme that takes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is known as rubisco.
4. There is a lot of interest in taking non-traditional foods and making them taste like traditional foods. Examples include Garden Burgers and Quorn. The latter is a protein made from fungus that can be made into a very 'meaty' tasting material.