News 326 views last update:6 Aug 2012

Biotechnology is hot

The recent 2007 Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) International Convention held in Boston drew a record 22,366 attendees, a nearly 15% increase from the previous year. The convention is the world's largest event for the biotechnology industry.

In reality, biotechnology not only is "transgenic", but also encompasses advances in genomics, bioinformatics, and molecular biology.

The bio industry needs to communicate the fact that more precise information about the genetic makeup of plants and animals (as well as plant and animal pests) can be used in non-transgenic ways to make better food, fuel, and fibre.

Information technology
"The convergence of information technology and molecular biology dramatically increases agriculture's potential to supply fuel and animal feed as well as more nutritious food," said Sano Shimoda, president of California-based BioScience Securities.

Ray Riley, global head of corn and soybean product development for Syngenta, pointed out that agriculture based IT, such as gene sequencing and molecular markers technology, is increasingly becoming focused on consumer attributes "rather than just production by the pound."

Cellulosic ethanol on edge of breakthrough
Use of specialized enzymes for generating biofuels can reduce or replace harsh chemicals that contaminate the environment and make the process more productive and efficient.

In addition, new 'no cook' enzymes extract the sugars in corn at room temperature, greatly reducing energy inputs and improving the cost and environmental profile of ethanol made from corn starch.

These advances in enzyme technology and microbial fermentation have increased the efficiency of corn ethanol production by 20%.

Development of ethanol production from cellulosic biomass (such as corn stalks, wheat straw, or switchgrass) is also on the cusp of commercial production, due to dramatic advances in the development of cellulase enzymes.

Industrial biotech companies have reduced the cost of the cellulose-digesting enzymes used to make ethanol by 30-fold since 2001, from over $5 per gallon (3.8 ltrs) of ethanol produced to under $0.20.

In 2004, Iogen Corporation became the first company to begin commercial production of ethanol from cellulose, using biotech enzymes that convert wheat straw to clean burning ethanol. At this moment several cellulosic ethanol biorefineries are under construction or on the drawing boards.

The 2008 BIO International Convention will be held June 17-20 in San Diego, California.

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