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From Bacteria to Biofuel, Invest in Milking Microbes

What if we could take a soil bacteria and tinker with its genes to create a biofuel much in the same way that a cow produces milk? Well, we can, or at least a team of scientists has figured out how to do it, and the next step is figuring out how to make it happen on a commercial scale.

The common soil bacterium Raistonia eutropha produces complex carbon compounds when stressed, and according to MIT, its scientists have engineered the bacterium’s genes to produce isobutanol, which can be substituted for or blended with gasoline. 

When the bacterium is stressed it stops growing and uses the energy to produce fuel, expelling the fuel rather than storing it up, which means that it scientists can figure out how to do this on a commercial scale it would be less costly than other ways of producing biofuel. Why? Because typically a microorganism producing biofuel is destroyed in the extraction process. This genetically tweaked bacterium simply expels and continues to produce.

Earlier this month, MIT scientist Christopher Brigham detailed the findings, along with his co-author, in the Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology journal. The team is led by professor of biology Anthony Sinskey.

According to Brigham, the bacterium is enters into a carbon-storage mode when its source of essential nutrients (nitrate or phosphate) is restricted. “What it does is take whatever carbon is available, and stores it in the form of a polymer, which is similar in its properties…




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