Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Current Breakthrough in the Synthesis of Biofuels

By: Daniel Filippi
ENVS 1020

The scientific team at the University of Cambridge and the Sustainable Bioenergy Centre has discovered two specific types of enzymes found in the lignocellulose of plants. The two genes are specifically located in the main component of lignocellulose, which is called xylan. These two genes deemed GUX 1 and GUX 2 are used to toughen wood, straw and stalks which make it increasingly difficult to extract sugars that are essential in the formation of bioethanol and other plant – derived natural fuels ( In short this knowledge can now be used in crop breeding programs where specific plants that require less processing, energy and fewer chemicals for conversion to biofuels and other renewable products are easier to grow and maintain. The two references that have been used in this blog are from both primary and secondary sources. The following paragraphs show the differences between the two.

The first major difference between the two texts is the simplicity between the two. The primary source is designed to appeal to the scientifically literate/minded individual who can read chemical equations, statistical values and can interpret them. For this reason this is a major limitation to the primary source by only allowing a small number of people to read and fully understand the content in which it is issuing to the reader. For example, in the primary source it talks mainly of the two different types of enzymes, GUX 1 and GUX 2, both extracted from the xylan of plants. These two enzymes both contain sugars, which the scientific teams have deemed MeGlcA, GlcA, and or Ara, and these sugars cause branching in the plants. This branching process strengthens the cell walls and its components and slows the attack on cell walls by types of pathogenic microorganisms (Mortimer and Miles, 2010) . This information though confusing at times due to its highly intellectual content does show greater value of its predecessor (secondary source) because of the amount of information it gives the reader. The primary allows the reader to fully understand how the scientists who conducted the research came to the conclusions they did and how they carried out their hypothesis. The secondary source on the other hand does delve into this information but not as thoroughly as the primary source. The secondary source’s job is to grab the reader’s attention first and then provides the reader with the most relevant and comprehensible reading material afterwards. The example given in the text that relates to the primary source is found in the secondary source’s bolded introduction which states that “Researchers funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) have discovered key plant enzymes that normally make the energy stored in wood, straw, and other non-edible parts of plants difficult to extract.” ( above statement compiles the primary source’s in depth information into a short, interesting paragraph, which draws the reader into the article.

Another major contrast between the two articles is found in the primary source which stated and explained the two types of enzymes that the scientists were dealing with, GUX 1 and GUX 2. The primary source goes on to explain what both enzymes specifically do and gives their scientific name (GlucUronic acid substitution for xylan) (Mortimer and Miles, 2010). The secondary source simply stated that there were two enzymes that the scientific team found when they extracted sugars from Arabidopsis plants (a popular model organism in plant biology and genetics) that can be used to make bioethanol ( Nowhere did it state in the secondary source the name of the enzymes, where they found them or how when removing these enzymes from the plant the stems became weakened, but still grew to its normal size (as stated in the primary source). This statement is important because this allows no long-term damage to the plant, therefore as many enzymes as needed can be used while extracting them for biofuels (Mortimer and Miles, 2010). This is an extreme weakness of the secondary source not mentioning how the scientists came to their conclusions.

The above picture depicts the structural

form of xylan that is found in the golgi

apparatus along with the the essential

sugars extracted from the Arabidopsis

plants used in the experiments.

The primary source although beneficial with its vast amount of information on the topic is extremely dry in parts and at times is hard to pick out the relevancies that are entwined in its text. While reading the primary source it becomes unmistakably clear that the style of writing can leave readers lost and confused. Readers’ then wonder when and where the paper’s observations and arguments are going to lead back to its initial hypothesis. Interfering with the reader’s ability to immerse themselves in the paper’s information could turn the reader away from the topic.

In conclusion while comparing and contrasting the two sources it’s found that both articles are trying to get their point across, which is; the scientific team from the University of Cambridge and the Sustainable Bioenergy Centre have created a possible alternative to our finite resources problem, they are trying to show how their research could help both, the economy and the environment. The obvious differences of the two are that; the primary source’s main objective is to be received for review for financial compensation so that they may continue their works. The secondary’s main objective is to draw in readers and cause a “buzz” in the public, so that they may spread the word and make the topic popular and of fair significance in people’s day-to-day conversations. On account of this, the two sources both lack in areas and possess several limitations but also contain strengths that rival each other in superiority over one another. As stated above, the primary source can be seemingly uninteresting and hard to understand for people who have no prior knowledge on the subject. Although this is true, what it lacks in the ability to achieve reader’s attentiveness it makes up for in content and in devotion to detail. It shows how the tests were carried out, what happened in each variant, the pros/cons of their findings and if they believed that their experiments were feasible or not for the bioprocessing industry. The secondary source on the other hand left out many details on what the actual enzymes were, how they found it in the plants and the experiments and results that occurred. The secondary source is mainly to inform the reader of the foundation of the experiment that took place and because of this it keeps the reader entertained. The secondary source also allows readers with minimal knowledge of the topic to comprehend what it is that the authors of the experiment are trying to carry out. In closing both primary and secondary sources are needed to attain the publics’ interest, but each aims for a different demographic. Together the two are needed to reach the public and have an impact on the population as a whole.


Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). "Biofuel from Inedible Plant Material Easier to Produce Following Enzyme Discovery." ScienceDaily 20 September 2010. 21 September 2010 .

Mortimer, Jennifer, Miles, Godfrey, Brown, David, Zhang, Zhinong, & Segura, Marcelo. (August 17, 2010). Absence of branches from xylan in Arabidopsis gux mutants reveals potential for simplification of lignocellulosic biomass. 1 - 6.

Xylanase. Beijing Challenge Group. Web. 22 Sep 2010.

1 comment:

  1. I quite agree with your comment on secondary sources making a 'buzz' in the public. You have a good point (if I may paraphrase) that science does the work, while media's job is to interpret the findings and tell the public what -they want you- to believe.