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University of Northern Colorado Professor Studying "Diesel Tree" as Biofuel Source

Greeley, CO, July 19, 2008 --( University of Northern Colorado Biological Sciences Assistant Professor Chhandak Basu has received a $49,643 grant from the Colorado Office of Economic Development & International Trade, along with matching university funds, to study the viability of using in automobiles biofuel derived from a tropical tree.

During the two-year collaborative project through the Bioscience Discovery Evaluation Grant Program, Basu is cloning the genes responsible for production of diesel-like fuel, called oleoresin, in the copaiba or "diesel tree." He’s then transferring those genes into plants and algae to determine those that are compatible for producing the most biodiesel.

Oleoresin yielded from genetically modified plants could potentially be mass-produced and used without further refining for fueling automobiles, said Basu.

"The agricultural/physiological aspects of oleoresin have been studied extensively, but not the molecular biology part, not the genes responsible for this type of synthesis," he said.

Conducting the research on Northern Colorado's campus, he and his two graduate research students will transform Arabidopsis plants and algae with oleoresin genes. Basu recently traveled to the University of Puerto Rico, San Juan, to collect genetic material from the copaiba tree. Basu said Arabidopsis, a non-invasive model flowering plant, was chosen in part because if successfully modified it would not negatively affect food supplies or strain the economy.

"And if it works in Arabidopsis, it will also work with all in that family and other grasses," Basu said.

He’s hopeful that the oleoresin proof of concept, which Basu has been working on with University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Professor and Racheff Chair of Excellence Dr. C. Neal Stewart Jr., will provide economic opportunities that will eventually lead to a partnership to deliver the biofuel.

"I’m really grateful to the state’s Office of Economic and International Trade and the university for offering support," Basu said. "It was a tremendous motivational boost for the lab."

To support continued development of the technology, he also intends to apply for additional funding opportunities through the National Science Foundation, U.S.Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency.

When combined with other emerging sources of energy, such as wind and solar power, Basu thinks biodiesel created from this process would provide a cheaper alternative to rising gas prices and become part of the solution to ease U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

"This can be a tool in the toolbox," Basu said of his research. "There’s so much wealth in this country that we should find a homegrown solution to address energy concerns. And if I’m successful here, we can spread the technology to the developing nations."


The University of Northern Colorado, the state’s premier student-centered university since 1889, has more than 12,000 undergraduate and graduate students studying in a broad array of programs in education, the arts, sciences, humanities and business. The Northern Colorado experience combines a solid liberal arts foundation, relevant professional coursework, innovative technology and real-world experiences to prepare students for a life of learning.
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University of Northern Colorado
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