A small soil bacteria has a new big job, playing host to a genetically engineered factory capable of making fuel for cars. While the project has yet to come out of the lab and into industrial-sized production, it is a huge step forward in the search for a renewable energy source.
The project by MIT intends to make transportation fuels 10 times as efficiently as existing biofuels that are derived from living organisms, reports Live Science.
The researchers at MIT were able to swap out genes in the R. eutropha bacterium, allowing it to create isobutanol, an alcohol that can either blend with or completely replace gasoline used by vehicles. Christopher Brigham, a biologist at MIT, stated:
“We’ve shown that, in continuous culture, we can get substantial amounts of isobutanol.”
There are already several similar projects that use microbes that make biofuels within their bodies, but researchers are forced to kill the microbes to extract the fuel. The latest effort by MIT would allow the bacteria to spit out gas into the liquid medium surrounding them, allowing for easy harvesting without killing the bacteria.
According to Gizmodo, the researchers’ next task is to transform carbon dioxide into fuel using the genetically engineered bacteria, who already naturally use hydrogen and carbon dioxide to grow. Other modifications could help the bacteria use carbon from sources like agricultural field waste or city waste.
The MIT research has received about $1.8 million from ARPA-E — the arm of the US Department of Energy that focuses on high-risk, high-reward projects — allowing their genetically engineered, fuel-producing bacteria project to flourish.
Would you use gas in your car that was grown from a genetically engineered bacteria?