Genetic Modification of Plants to Produce Ethanol

March 29, 2011
By zacharmy11 BRONZE, Conyers, Georgia
zacharmy11 BRONZE, Conyers, Georgia
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

The burning of gasoline and diesel in cars is having a major impact on our planet. This burning can release harmful greenhouse gasses such as nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide that harm the environment in many different ways. Whether it be the environment and weather systems changing, or the lowering of air quality, or the threat to human life; air pollution is dangerous.

Air pollution can cause many changes in climate and weather patterns. Recent research has shown that the Earth’s temperature has increased which is thought to be due to greenhouse gas release. Greenhouse gasses contribute to the production of acid rain, photochemical smog, and air contamination. Air quality is very important in human life. Air pollution can cause many health problems including asthma, birth defects, nerve damage, and cancer. Some air pollutants alone are poisonous and can cause fatal health problems in short timing (Environmental Protection Agency, 2007). Environmental impacts of pollution can cause loss of biodiversity and extinction in species. This can happen in air, land, and sea as pollution moves from the air, comes down as acid rain, and runoff into nearby water systems.
To prevent the pollution that comes from automobiles, there are bio-fuels that can be used. These can include biodiesel, ethanol, or a hybrid fuel of the two. The only problem is that these fuels are rather expensive or require a lot of space and raw materials to make. Yeasts have the genetic ability to produce ethanol through anaerobic respiration. What if plants could be genetically altered to produce ethanol through altering their photosynthesis process?
What could be done to alter a plants genome? There are many protocols stating how to modify a genome. To start find a small, quick growing plant that you can control the fertilization of. Organisms that use anaerobic respiration are generally smaller because they do not perform the citric acid cycle and oxidative phosphorilation, thereby little ATP is produced. After finding a suitable plant for the project, find the genetic code for the plant by breaking down the cells and sending the DNA through a DNA sequencer. Once this is found you can compare the code to other species and find the yeast code for anaerobic respiration. You can then insert this gene into the plant genome and reproduce the plant to get the trait.

The actual genetic change of the plant can be a success. The process of photosynthesis is described in the following formula: 6(CO2) + 6(H2O) + solar energy = C6H12O6 + 6(O2). Now this formula can be modified in different ways in order to get new products. One modification can produce only ethanol along with oxygen. This formula is described as followed: 6(CO2) + 6(H2O) + 6(H) = 3(C2H6O ethanol) + 15(O). Another modification can produce methanol, another bio-fuel that isn’t as efficient. The formula is stated as: 6(CO2) + 6(H2O) + 12(H) = 6(CH4O methanol) + 6(O2). One final modification can produce a hybrid fuel containing both ethanol and methanol. The formula is as follows: 6(CO2) + 6(H2O) + 6(H) = 2(C2H6O ethanol) + 2(CH4O methanol) + 7(O2).

The problems that could occur with modifying the plant would go along with plants ability to survive on its own. Since photosynthesis is being changed, the plant would not be able to produce its own sugar, thereby not producing ATP through cellular respiration. Since the plant is relatively small, the ATP produced from anaerobic respiration might be enough to support it. However, if the plant can’t survive, then death could be avoided by “feeding” the plant sugar water. This gives the plant the sugar it needs and allows it to produce the energy it needs.

Some scientists say that the investment in ethanol is not worth it. They say that plants currently used for ethanol require a lot of space to grow, and once the plants are used food prices will increase significantly. This first can be avoided by using the non-edible parts of a plant, such as the cob in corn, or the bark on trees. Also, with my proposition, plants could be grown to produce ethanol, but as they grow, they are also releasing ethanol. This would increase the output of one plant significantly.

Ethanol production has increased over 13% since 2009. Since this bio-fuel is cheaper and less polluting, ethanol will soon increase in demand as more and more automobiles switch to ethanol to help save the environment, while also saving money. Until then, environmentalists are fighting to make gasoline 15% ethanol, a substance called E15 Gasoline (US Energy Information Agency, 2010). This is because most cars can only use a small amount of ethanol at the moment. Only certain vehicles can use a majority ethanol as fuel.

With this new proposition, ethanol production could increase significantly. This would add to the global attempt to “go green” and save our environment. Imagine a world with no gasoline, no diesel, and no air pollution. Lung cancer rates have dropped significantly and environmental loss to pollution and runoff has reduced to almost none. This is very possible; this could be our future.

Environmental Protection Agency. (1991, March). Air Pollution and Health Risks. Retrieved January 21,
2011, from Technology Transfer Network Air Toxics Website:
US Energy Information Agency. (2010). Ethanol. Retrieved January 21, 2011, from US Energy Information
Agency Website:

The author's comments:
I came up with this project idea back in the 7th Grade. Once I reached highschool I found it possible to actually test and hope to see the project come together.

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