Aug 22, 2012Science and Technology
Engineered bacteria make fuel

Ralstonia Eutropha is a soil bacteria that exhibits a peculiar behaviour. Whenever the bacterium is placed into a stressful situation, it devotes all its time and energy into sucking up all the carbon in its environment and putting into storage. "What it does is take whatever carbon is available, and stores it in the form of a polymer, which is similar in its properties to a lot of petroleum-based plastics," Christopher Brigham, a research scientist in MIT's biology department. The MIT team is taking the bacteria's quirk one step further, editing select parts of the bacterium's genome in hopes of getting it to harvest CO2 and produce more useable fuels. "We've shown that, in continuous culture, we can get substantial amounts of isobutanol," Brigham says. The next step is to optimize and scale the process for use in industrial processes.

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