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Two initiatives at Utah State University exemplify Utah's commitment to the Sun Grant mission. The first is the ongoing work of the Center for Profitable Uses of Agricultural Byproducts. The Center was established in 2000 to strengthen the rural economy by working closely with farmers, ranchers, and agricultural businesses to bring them technologies that they need and want. The center's main project thus far is the induced blanket reactor (IBR) anaerobic digester, which can make electricity from manure. The manure produced by a typical 1,000 cow dairy or 6,000 hog farm can generate enough electricity for 100 homes.
The second initiative is Dr. Yajun Wu's work at Utah State developing low-lignin biomass for ethanol production. Ethanol production from biomass currently requires pretreatment of cell walls using methods such as steam explosion and acid hydrolysis to make tightly bound cellulose more available for microbial or fungal treatment. The acid-insoluble lignin fraction is retained with the pretreated biomass. The process of ethanol production would be made easier if the biomass was low in lignin to begin with. Dr. Wu has demonstrated that genetic engineering can be used to reduce lignin content by controlling the enzymes that catalyze the last step of lignin synthesis, i.e., polymerization. A mutation in a single laccase in Arabidopsis resulted in a 30% reduction in lignin content specifically in the seed coat. Twelve laccase genes have been identified.