Several University of Michigan researchers have joined together a fungus and E. coli bacteria to turn tough, waste plant material into isobutanol – a product that can be converted into biochemicals and biofuels. A paper based on this research, “Design and characterization of synthetic fungal-bacterial consortia for direct production of isobutanol from cellulosic biomass,” was published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Xiaoxia “Nina” Lin, assistant professor of chemical engineering, and leader of the research said her team used corn stalks and leaves to produce the isobutanol. Focused on creating a super team of microbial specialists, the team landed on the fungus Trichoderma reesei, an up and coming star when its comes breaking down tough plant material into sugars. Escherichia coli, meanwhile, is relatively easy for researchers to genetically modify and the team used a strain developed by James Liao’s lab at the University of California – Los Angeles that had been engineered to convert sugars into isobutanol.