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Biofuel research may keep tobacco industry from going up in smoke

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Berkeley, California - 7 May 2013
1. Researcher walks up to tobacco plant in greenhouse on UC Berkeley campus
2. Researcher inspects tobacco plant
3. Close of tobacco leaf
4. SOUNDBITE (English): Peggy Lemaux ("la-mow") - Researcher - UC Berkeley Dept. of Plant & Microbial Biology
"Tobacco was, to us, a perfect one because it's not something people eat. The infrastructure for growing it, harvesting it, producing it, is all there so we thought that was an excellent choice to make fuels."
5. Tobacco leaves
6. Close up of lab worker clipping leaf from tobacco plant
7. Close up of tobacco leaf being cut
8. Mid of lab worker wide
9. Close up of lab worker putting pieces of leaf into petri dish
10. Mid of shaker separation table in lab, table shaking containers
11. Close up of tobacco extract oil being separated on shaker table
12. Close of separation
13. SOUNDBITE (English) Anastasios Melis, UC Berkeley Biologist:
"This is the total lipophilic extract from tobacco leaves. We have modified the tobacco leaves so that they accumulate oils inside the air spaces within the leaf. As part of the protocol that we developed, we're removing all lipophilic products including the chlorophylls and the other chlorophyll compounds and that's what you're looking at now."
14. Close up of tobacco extract in large tubes
15. Close up of condensed tobacco oil in smaller test tubes
16. Close up of row of small tobacco plants growing in lab
17. Extreme close up of small tobacco plant
LEADIN
The troubled tobacco industry may be getting some good news for a change.
US scientists are engineering the tobacco plant to produce oils that, when extracted, can serve as biofuels to power airplanes, cars, trucks and other machines.
STORYLINE:
People are looking for all kind of alternatives to traditional fuel sources.
And as the habit of smoking decreases across the developed world, tobacco growers are looking to put their assets to good use.
Scientists at the department of Plant & Microbial Biology of Berkeley University in California are pioneering the research.
Success would allow farmers who have been growing tobacco for generations to continue the tradition for a different purpose, while taking advantage of an infrastructure established to serve the diminishing cigarette, cigar and snuff markets.
Peggy G. Lemaux, UC Cooperative Extension specialist at Berkeley, is a lead researcher in the project.
"Tobacco was, to us, a perfect one because it's not something people eat. The infrastructure for growing it, harvesting it, producing it, is all there so we thought that was an excellent choice to make fuels."
She lists more reasons: tobacco is a high biomass crop. And, since it is not a food source, tobacco production for biofuel would not have an impact on global food markets or find its way into the food supply.
However, there are no tobacco varieties that produce oil at high levels. Scientists know that certain algae do turn sunlight energy into oil, and that sparked an idea.
The scientists' goal is to engineer tobacco plants with algal genes so that they use energy from sunlight to produce various biofuels directly in their leaves. These could then be harvested, crushed and the fuel extracted.
Lemaux - together with fellow researchers Anastasios Melis and Krishna Niyogi - have already developed an extraction method to extract the oils from the green outer portion of the leaf.
To do that, the consortium scientists are using very small pieces of tobacco leaves to introduce the desired algal genes.
The small pieces of leaf tissue are then placed in a Petri dish, the tissues that contain the introduced genes identified, and then the tissues grow into a new plant, every cell of which contains the algal genes.



You can license this story through AP Archive: http://www.aparchive.com/metadata/youtube/d07d4fdcddb91b65b2c825f8e007c910
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