Bacteria Engineered to Produce Biofuel

Related Articles »

  • Printer Friendly Printer Friendly
  • Comments Comments (0)

Researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory-led Joint BioEnergy Institute have engineered a familiar bacteria to produce biofuel.

In a study published Jan. 28 in the journal Nature, researchers described how they genetically modified E. coli bacteria to produce fatty acid-derived biodiesel from plant sugar.

"The primary goal was to get closer to being able to make a viable renewable biofuel that could be directly burned in today's engines without modifications," said Eric Steen, a researcher at the institute and an author of the study.

According to the study, the E. coli is suitable for biodiesel production in part because it is "exceptionally amenable to genetic manipulation."

The plant sugar now used to produce the oil is one form of biomass, he said. The microbes feed on the biomass to produce the fatty acids.

Producing the oil from different plant material, however, is far off, Steen said. Researchers still have to find more efficient ways to break down this plant material-which they eventually hope to use in the process-so the bacteria can use it.

He said that LS9, a South San Francisco-based company that took part in the study, is continuing research on the E. coli to scale production to a commercial level.

Steen said that researchers had to specifically engineer the bacteria because it is not normally able to take sugar and turn it into biofuel.

"All (the bacteria) care about is propagating and finding another food source, and that's what they do," he said. "So the real focus of the research was on understanding how we might remove the regulation that E. coli have that prevents it from producing biodiesel."

Steen said that the fuels produced by this research would be made of energy-dense molecules.

"So if you have a gallon of ethanol you can drive one mile, but on a gallon of our fuel, you drive two miles," he said. "The fuels that we've been producing have better properties than biofuels people have produced in the past."

Biofuel production with E. coli may be more efficient than biofuel production with algae because producing algae on a large scale may be more difficult, Steen said. Also, the chemical conversion process necessary to turn the chemicals produced by algae into biofuel production would be more complex than that for E. coli.

"We're really directly making a drop of fuel," he said. "You can skim it right off the top ... and put it in your tank."

According to Steen, other organizations have contributed knowledge to this field, but it was this research that focused on genetically modifying the bacteria to directly produce biofuel.

"It's a very incremental process that relies on a lot of different processes to happen," he said.


Cristian Macavei covers research and ideas. Contact him at [email protected]

Comments (0) »

Comment Policy
The Daily Cal encourages readers to voice their opinions respectfully in regards to both the readers and writers of The Daily Californian. Comments are not pre-moderated, but may be removed if deemed to be in violation of this policy. Comments should remain on topic, concerning the article or blog post to which they are connected. Brevity is encouraged. Posting under a pseudonym is discouraged, but permitted. Click here to read the full comment policy.
White space
Left Arrow
Research and Ideas
Image Berkeley Lab announces finalists for potential loc...
Following a search that began in January, the Lawrence Berke...Read More»
Research and Ideas
Image Campus undergraduates awarded research grants
Several UC Berkeley undergraduate students were recognized by the Inst...Read More»
Research and Ideas
Image Study: China's energy consumption to level off wit...
China's energy consumption is expected to stabilize w...Read More»
Research and Ideas
Image Archive documents oral stories from survivors of I...
A 90-year-old man in India told the unbelievable ...Read More»
Research and Ideas
Image Telescopes searching for alien activity shut down ...
A collection of telescopes that UC Berkeley...Read More»
Research and Ideas
Image Lab neglects employment verification
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory allowed subcontractors to hire worker...Read More»
Right Arrow

Job Postings

White Space