These were not just any spreadsheets. They contained the complete genetic sequence for all commonly known Baker’s yeasts. Instead of having to second-guess the behavior and composition of these most mysterious of single-cell fungi, he would finally know. “We were finally able to open up this ‘black box’ and look inside,” he recalls.
What Jack didn’t know was that it would set in motion a chain of events that represent one of the defining scientific achievements of our time.
Biofuels made from the unwanted and unused parts of plants - and produced through the successful fermentation of their sugars into ethanol…via the catalyst of yeast. Today, corn starch-based ethanol is being manufactured, sold and used as biofuel – in everyday cars – in the United States. Through the POET-Liberty project cellulosic ethanol will be added to this biofuel portfolio. The dream is that one day advanced biofuels will replace petroleum in cars altogether with incalculable benefits to the planet.
But like all great science, this achievement hasn’t come without its…roadblocks. “While we could ferment regular starch-based sugars into ethanol pretty easily using different yeasts, the real challenge we faced was finding a way to ferment the more complex cellulosic sugars that could deliver us the most efficient and waste-free process,” says Jack, a long-standing professor at the Delft Technical University in the Netherlands.