Fungus, Thy Name is Bevo


When Cockrell School of Engineering researchers uncovered a never-before-identified strain of fungi in their lab at the University of Texas, they made sure it would always call the Forty 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,” says Hal Alper, an associate professor in the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering 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 says. “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.”

With reporting by Sandra Zaragoza

Bevomyces image courtesy the Cockrell School of Engineering


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