According to a study published this week, a genetically modified strain of the common bacteria E.coli has been created that could lead to a new, more powerful type of biofuel. Researchers from the University of California’s Los Angeles report they’ve created bacteria that produces long-chain alcohol perfect for use as a fuel.
Some strains of E. coli are the bad business that causes food poisoning, so it’s well known. Because of that, its genome is one of the most well documented of any bacteria, so it’s easy to work with and manipulate. Scientists have been able to create E. coli that produces ethanol in the past, but this is the first time anyone has coaxed the bacteria to produce larger molecules, and more molecules means more power. For instance, ethanol has only two carbon molecules, while the alcohols created by the new E.coli strain has a chain of 5 to 8 carbons.
Those long-chain alcohols don’t usually exist naturally, and the researchers had to engineer a new metabolic pathway in the bacteria by inserting chromosomes in the bacteria’s DNA to make it happen. In addition to having a higher energy density, these alcohols are less likely to corrode engine interiors and they’re easy to separate from water. All they need to do now is make it happen in large quantities. Eventually we may be driving on bacteria excrement.
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.