A man-made strain of the common bacteria E.coli has been created by researchers at the University of California in Los Angeles that could lead to a new generation of biofuels. Researchers report in the current issue of the Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they've synthesized bacteria that can produce fuel-worthy alcohols.
E. coli is found in animals and humans; a more virulent form can cause food poisoning, but most strains of the bacteria are innocuous. Because its genome is so well documented, it’s easy to work with. Essentially, the bacteria can be thought of as a factory that can be commandeered to produce compounds of interest. Up till now, scientists had managed to coax E. coli to produce ethanol, but the researchers at UCLA wanted a bigger molecule – ethanol is a two carbon molecule that contains less energy than alcohols with longer carbon backbones.
By engineering a new metabolic pathway, the scientists were able to get the bacteria to produce longer alcohols (5 to 8 carbons) which contains higher energy densities and also do not corrode engine interiors. Scientists believe the bacteria could also produce compounds compatible with jet or diesel fuels.
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