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The oceans offer a largely untapped supply of enzymes adapted to the habitat in which the producing organism is found. Adaptation to high pressure, salt tolerance, and high and low temperatures can make the enzymes very valuable in industrial applications.
The current production methods for the production of biofuels from renewable resources require the use of heat or chemicals to produce a useable fuel: microbial enzymes are expected to provide a mechanism by which such fuels can be unlocked from renewable resources.
Enzymes involved in the degradation of polysaccharides are of considerable importance in the development of methods to tap plant material as a source of ethanol. In this process cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin, which form much of the biomass of plants, are degraded to free sugars which can then be converted to ethanol through fermentation.
Biodiesel (fatty acid methyl ester) production from plant oils has the potential of providing an alternative fuel source for powering diesel engines. Several processes have been developed in which plant oils are transesterified using alkali-catalysis. An alternative method is the use of microbial lipases which overcome many of the problems found with chemical catalysis.
Other uses of microbial products in biotechnology include the production of bacterial lipids termed polyhydroxy alkanoates. These compounds are produced by certain bacteria as storage materials but have great potential as precursors for many chemicals that are currently made from fossil fuels. They may also provide a completely biodegradable plastic.