Americans are making, drinking, and exporting more wine than ever before. A hobby for some and serious business for others, winemaking consumes a whole lot of grapes every year (in the neighborhood of 4 million tons in the US alone), and that number is growing. But as with any type of industry, there's a certain industrial waste to be managed. In the case of winemaking, it's called pomace, and up to now vintners have been paying to have the pulpy mass hauled away. Now food science researchers at Oregon State University in Corvallis have come up with a process to make pomace into useful products, from biodegradable fiberboard to a nutritional foodstuff, which is the kind of earth-friendly, business-savvy research from which OSU is likely to profit nicely when the technology is commercialized internationally.
An Oregon State University research lab led by Gregory Rorrer has just been awarded a $2M NSF grant as part of the Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI) program for Engineering projects. Of the 15 ENG/EFRI awards for 2012, 3 were in the category of Synthetic Biorefineries research: "the large-scale use of micro-organisms that harness solar energy to produce chemicals and fuels from carbon dioxide." Rorrer's lab will study diatom photosynthesis as a means of creating biofuel, as well as two other bioengineered products. Diatoms are a type of algae with a unique biosynthetic ability to extract silicate from the ocean to create cell walls of nanostructured silica. According to the grant proposal, the OSU team will identify cellular processes and cultivation strategies towards the design of scalable systems for a future diatom-based photosynthetic biorefinery.
Oregon State researchers recently discovered DNA in a nematode, a type of roundworm, that may provide an insight into the mechanisms of human aging. The researchers found a specific portion of DNA within the mitochondria of the nematode which displayed the characteristics of "selfish" DNA, in other words, DNA which actually hurts the animal's chances of survival. Scientists have previously found instances of selfish DNA occurring in plants, but this is the first example found in an animal. “We weren’t even looking for this when we found it, and at first we thought it must be a laboratory error,” said Dee Denver, Oregon State associate professor of zoology (photo left courtesy of OSU). "Selfish DNA is not supposed to be found in animals."