From Bacteria to Fuel

E. Coli cells (pictured) have been modified to turn raw plant matter into biodiesel.© National Science Foundation

An E. coli strain that can turn raw plant matter into diesel without any refinement or additional steps has been developed by a group of researchers including members from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), employees from next-gen biofuel company LS9 and scientists from UC Berkeley.

After about a dozen genetic adjustments, the E. coli microbe was successfully modified to have the ability to covert the fatty-acid molecules in the plants directly into fuels and other chemicals. This process produces diesel molecules, alcohols and waxes directly from hemicellulose — a main component in plants. The researchers anticipate that their diesel-making E. coli will also be able to produce environmentally friendly surfactants, solvents and lubricants, and experimentation demonstrates that the process can also be appropriately adjusted to produce substances suitable for the substitute of gasoline.

These substances can fuel a diesel vehicle already with no modifications. James Liao, a metabolic engineer and synthetic biologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, said, "It’s a nice milestone in the field of biofuels, and it has a lot of promise for actually being commercialized."

SOURCE: Matter Network.