Scottish scientists are investigating how tiny organisms found in the stomachs of cows could be used to create valuable industrial products including biofuels and pharmaceutical building blocks from waste plant materials.
A collaboration between life sciences company Ingenza and leading researcher Professor John Wallace of the Rowett Institute in Aberdeen, is examining how enzymes from the microbes that live in the stomachs of cattle and other ruminants – animals that chew the cud – could be used industrially to break down the tough internal structures of plant and tree matter to create sustainable alternatives to petrochemical-derived products such as fuel, commodity chemicals and fine chemicals.
Humans are unable to digest this material, which becomes roughage in the diet. However, Ingenza and Prof Wallace hope to identify enzymes found in ruminants that allows them to digest these complex structures.
The discovery and application of these enzymes could help scientists to release untapped energy in waste plant and tree products and use it to manufacture renewable alternatives to products such as petrol and diesel fuels.
The microbes are obtained from the cattle by painless procedures. If the project is successful, Ingenza would use it’s own production systems , such as yeast, to mass produce the enzymes for industrial use.
Dr Ian Fotheringham, president of Ingenza, said: “People have been trying to unlock the energy in plant and tree matter for years, but our approach recognises how nature has already successfully done it.
“If we can identify novel enzymes that allow ruminants to break down these tough structures, and then replicate them on a large scale, the possibilities for more sustainable and renewable industrial practices are enormous.
“Society is starting to look towards how greener practices can contribute to economic growth and more sustainable living in a meaningful way – this project could be a real step towards that.”
For more details about the Rumens and Ruminants Interest Group, see the Bioscience KTN website: www.innovateuk.org/biosciencesktn