Introducing UT Austin’s Very Own…Organism

Alper Lab 2015 standing outside in front of the UT Tower on a sunny dayWhen researchers uncovered a never-before-identified strain of fungi in the Alper Lab in the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering, they made sure it would always call the 40 Acres home. They decided to give the organism the official name Ustilago Bevomyces, after Bevo, the university’s beloved Longhorn steer mascot.

“We gave it this name to pay respect to the place where the organism was isolated, and to make sure it always had a home right here in Austin,” said Associate Professor Hal Alper, who led the team that identified Bevomyces.

So far, Bevomyces is living up to its storied name.

Alper and his team found the organism to have special qualities that make it attractive in the production of biofuels and chemicals. In particular, it has an extraordinary ability to break down biomass sugars (especially xylan, a carbohydrate made up of sugar molecules), Alper says, which could improve researchers’ ability to convert plants and grass into biofuels. Alper and his team describe their findings in a recent paper in Biotechnology Journal.

“Right now, we are continuing to explore the abilities of this organism to degrade biomass,” Alper said. “By taking cues as to why this organism performs so well, we can re-engineer other industrial organisms to also use these biomass sources. The end goal is to lower the overall net cost of biochemical and biofuels.”






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