Trojan Horse Project: Biorefinery in a Plant

Sandia researchers have developed a technology that could potentially turn agricultural waste, weeds, and other plant products that are typically discarded or destroyed into fuel. The idea is to create a consolidated biorefinery process inside plant cells. Thisresearch seeks to embed into the plant cells synthetic genetic circuits constructed using parts from extremophilic organisms that can break down the complex carbohydrates of plant biomass into fermentable sugars.

Sandia has developed synthetic biology-engineered plants that self-produce a suite of cellulase enzymes. Deconstruction can then be integrated into a one-step process, thereby increasing efficiency (cellulose-cellulase mass-transfer rates) and reducing costs. The unique aspects of Sandia’s approach are the rationally engineered enzymes that are prepared and integrated into plant cells by multiple transformation techniques to become “Trojan Horses” during pretreatment conditions.


  • Significant reduction in the cost and complexity of the processes to deconstruct biomass for biofuels processing
  • Dedicated biofuel crops will not compete with agricultrual crops used for human and/ or animal use
  • Synthetic biology is not being done on food-source plants
  • Enzyme will not be expressed in the grain, it will only be in the stalks and leaves (which is not used for livestock)

Applications and Industries

  • Sustainable production of fuel materials from renewable resources, chemicals, and biopolymers
  • Developing dedicated energy crops with significant advantages in a consolidated bio-processing system
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