Clean Energy


Biosciences Division

The objective of the Biosciences Division (BSD) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory is to advance science and technology to better understand complex biological systems and their relationship with the environment. The division has expertise and special facilities in genomics, computational biology, microbiology, microbial ecology, biophysics and structural biology, and plant sciences. This collective expertise includes collaborations within and outside ORNL and focuses on scientific challenges in biology for Department of Energy (DOE) missions in energy and the environment.

Research Groups

Featured Programs

The division is proud to be co-sponsors of the ongoing Symposium on Biotechnology for Fuels and Chemicals, which is held annually in May.

BSD scientists have

  • Developed in situ bioremediation techniques for reducing uranium in contaminated groundwater that prevent offsite migration and subsequent contamination of local water supplies.
  • Created the GeoChip, one of the first fully field-deployable platforms for simultaneously identifying microbial genes to help understand environmental microbial community processes.
  • Developed NanoFermentation using natural bacterial strains. This approach, which won an R&D 100 award, produces high-quality crystalline powders useful for magnetic media, ferrofluids, xerographic toner, catalysts, pigments, water treatment, and coatings. Researchers are exploring nanofermentation to produce less expensive materials for LEDs and solar energy panels.
  • Developed GRAIL and Prodigal gene-finding algorithms.
  • Identified a pathway that triggers proliferation and maturation of muscle. Based on this finding, NellOne Therapeutics is developing treatments for victims of heart attacks and other muscle trauma.

BSD BESC scientists have

  • Generated a genetically modified switchgrass that yields 30% more ethanol and requires 3- to 4-fold less enzyme for processing—equivalent to at least a 20% reduction in next-generation biofuel production cost.
  • Discovered ways to overcome key inhibitors of microbial fermentation efficiency (e.g., microbial strain improvements that lead to enhanced ethanol or acetate tolerance). These discoveries are significant because end-product titer and inhibitory byproducts raise capital and downstream processing costs.
  • Demonstrated the production of isobutanol, an advanced biofuel, directly from cellulose by conferring the ability to make isobutanol into a native cellulosedegrading microbe, Clostridium cellulolyticum.
  • Enabled development of a highthroughput screening platform for simultaneously determining recalcitrance properties of tens of thousands of bioenergy feedstocks. This technology is used by biofuel researchers to quickly assess the ease with which a plant material can be broken down for conversion to sugars. A component of this work, a multichamber pretreatment reactor for high-throughput screening of biomass, has been patented and licensed to a U.S. precision machining company.
  • Licensed two patent applications for the development of the simultaneous and thus more efficient conversion of hemicellulose and cellulose to ethanol.

The work of the Biosciences Division is featured on the Systems Biology pages in the Clean Energy Science and Discovery area of this website.

Contact Us

Anthony Palumbo
Biosciences Division
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Post Office Box 2008
Building 1505, Room 104A
Oak Ridge, TN 37831-6060
Tel (865) 574-5845
Fax (865) 574-3036


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