Apr
24
2013

Genetic engineers creating diesel-excreting bacteria.

Engineering: just like magic, only it works.

John Love from the University of Exeter in the UK and colleagues took genes from the camphor tree, soil bacteria and blue-green algae and spliced them into DNA from Escherichia coli bacteria. When the modified E. coli were fed glucose, the enzymes they produced converted the sugar into fatty acids and then turned these into hydrocarbons that were chemically and structurally identical to those found in commercial fuel.

“We are biologically producing the fuel that the oil industry makes and sells,” says Love.

The team now needs to work out how to scale-up the project to mass-produce hydrocarbons.

They also figure that they can make this stuff live off of non-vegetable waste products, which means: they’re suggesting that eventually their bugs will eat sh*t and sh*t diesel.  Ain’t that a thing? – Well, unless you’re a radical Green.  In that case you’re looking at the possible ruination of your precious, minority-killing ethanol program AND facing that scary old devil known as Cheap Energy.

Moe Lane

PS: Always remember, of course, that this could be blue-sky or vaporware.  It’s certainly not cost-effective at the moment. But here’s the thing: an advance like this requires no new insight into the laws of physics.  It merely involves the transformation of one complex carbon molecule into a different complex carbon molecule.

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5 Comments

  • acat says:

    Hmmm. I wonder if it could work on cellulose…

  • Pomme143 says:

    So, Mr Fusion! Excellent!

  • sicsemperstolidissimum says:

    The potential has been apparent for some time.
    .
    I remember talking to a guy sometime last decade.
    .
    An enzyme is essentially a very selective super-catalyst*. Figuring out a new one takes a fair amount of time/energy. When you have that, they are very costly to make. Thus the appeal of self-replicating enzyme factories, that wrap them and sort out some of the other issues.
    .
    It seems like it should be possible to use this sort of thing to fix up one of the reactions that takes feedstock and energy, and makes something burnable. As acat says, doing something with cellulose would be very interesting.
    .
    That said, they feed it sugar, and isn’t part of the family of problems that sugar is costly enough that it doesn’t make sense to turn into burnables?
    .
    I knew a guy that pointed out that the economics for burnables are relatively weak. Fiscally, it may make more sense to do some of the necessary exploration of the chemical space for the purpose of chemical feedstock, than for something to go in the car.
    .
    If you know something about organic and physical chemistry, and capital scale processes, you can see why even if one has a bacteria that takes a feasible process, and improves it to the point of being potentially commercially viable**, that this is still some ways away from being ready for prime time.
    .
    *They can have very high yield, speed, and again the selectivity.
    .
    **Still, this would be a pretty neat piece of work.

  • Cameron says:

    I’m betting that within a year of them making something workable out of this, the price will be low enough that it will be seen at the pump.
    .
    Now to make sure that I save up some mason jars to collect greenie tears. I’ll use them for cleaning my house.

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