Turning Bacteria into Butanol Biofuel Factories
by Robert Sanders (UC Berkley News Center) University of California, Berkeley, chemists have engineered bacteria to churn out a gasoline-like biofuel at about 10 times the rate of competing microbes, a breakthrough that could soon provide an affordable and “green” transportation fuel.
The advance is reported in this week’s issue of the journal Nature Chemical Biology by Michelle C. Y. Chang, assistant professor of chemistry at UC Berkeley, graduate student Brooks B. Bond-Watts and recent UC Berkeley graduate Robert J. Bellerose.
Various species of the Clostridium bacteria naturally produce a chemical called n-butanol (normal butanol) that has been proposed as a substitute for diesel oil and gasoline. While most researchers, including a few biofuel companies, have genetically altered Clostridium to boost its ability to produce n-butanol, others have plucked enzymes from the bacteria and inserted them into other microbes, such as yeast, to turn them into n-butanol factories. Yeast and E. coli, one of the main bacteria in the human gut, are considered to be easier to grow on an industrial scale.
… Among the reasons for engineering microbes to make fuels is to avoid the toxic byproducts of conventional fossil fuel refining, and, ultimately, to replace fossil fuels with more environmentally friendly biofuels produced from plants. If microbes can be engineered to turn nearly every carbon atom they eat into recoverable fuel, they could help the world achieve a more carbon-neutral transportation fuel that would reduce the pollution now contributing to global climate change. Chang is a member of UC Berkeley’s year-old Center for Green Chemistry. READ MORE Abstract and MORE (MSNBC with video)