More miles to the bushel, by Andrew Pollack, published September 8, 2006 in the NY Times, discusses the efforts being made to improve the yield of crops being used to produce ethanol. Seed and biotechnology companies see a big new opportunity in developing corn and other crops tailored for use in ethanol and other biofuels. Selected excerpts:
Syngenta, for instance, hopes in 2008 to begin selling a genetically engineered corn designed to help convert itself into ethanol. Each kernel of this self-processing corn contains an enzyme that must otherwise be added separately at the ethanol factory.
Syngenta is seeking approval of the corn for human and animal food use, not only in the United States but in Europe, South Africa and elsewhere. Syngenta says the amylase enzyme is safe, noting that these enzymes are found in saliva.
DuPont and Bunge announced that their existing joint venture to improve soybeans for food would also start designing beans for biodiesel fuel and other industrial uses.
Ceres, a privately owned supplier of genetics technology to Monsanto, sees a future in switch grass. The company’s greenhouses are filled with versions of tall, gangly grass plants, some developed by conventional breeding and some by genetic engineering.
Mendel Biotechnology, based in Hayward, Calif., said miscanthus could produce well over 20 tons an acre each year. “No planting, no fertilizing, no irrigation,” said its chief executive, Chris Somerville, who is also the director of plant biology at the Carnegie Institution and a Stanford University professor. “You can just cut it every year for 10 years.”
Such prospects are starting to alarm some environmentalists, who worry that altered plants will cross-pollinate in the wild, resulting in forests that practically droop for want of lignin. And some oppose the notion of altering corn to feed the nation’s addiction to automobiles.