s u m m a r y


If you want to make corn-based ethanol, one of the first things you need to do is grind up the corn, mix the resulting flour with water and a couple of specialized enzymes, and cook it.


The first enzyme, alpha amylase, helps break down the large corn starch molecules into short sections. The second enzyme, gluco amylase, breaks the shorter sections into glucose sugar molecules. Once you've got the sugar, you can then add yeast, ferment and, voilà, ethanol!


As the craze for corn-based ethanol surges in the United States, commercially providing ever-improved versions of these enzymes has become a thriving business. But to ethanol producers, obtaining the enzymes represents a production cost that they'd rather do without.


One solution is to have corn arrive at the ethanol plant with the enzyme already preloaded. Syngenta, an agribusiness biotech firm headquartered in Switzerland, applied for regulatory approval in Australia and New Zealand for permission to start growing transgenic corn purposefully optimized for the production of ethanol. Referred to as "Line 3272 corn," it is a strain of maize genetically modified to include an alpha amylase gene known as amy797E. Amy797E is hot stuff -- it is "thermostable" to the point that it can survive in boiling water, which makes it especially ideal for cooking corn-flour.


Line 3272, theoretically, would bring down costs for ethanol producers by simplifying their production processes. No need to add alpha amylase enzyme -- it comes pre-mixed!


But there is a problem: Corn is fabulously promiscuous. If you plant a field of transgenic corn destined solely for ethanol production, that corn will interbreed with other fields of corn. Barring further advances in gene containment technology that have yet to be perfected, energy crop corn will get into the food supply. It is fact. Everyone involved with the production and regulation of transgenic corn is well aware of this.


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