E. coli strain engineered to produce biodiesel directly from biomass

We commonly know the E. coli (Escherichia coli) as the bacteria that can cause serious food poisonings and a PR and marketing disaster for food manufacturers. But this only caused by a strain of E. coli called O157:H7, the rest of other strains are harmless and in fact have been living inside the intestines of warm-blooded organisms like cattle and humans.

Just recently, researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) have engineered a strain of E. coli to produce bio diesel fuel directly from biomass without the aid of additional chemical modifications.

“Biosynthesis of microbial fatty acids produces fatty acids bound to a carrier protein, the accumulation of which inhibits the making of additional fatty acids,” Steen says. “Normally E. coli doesn’t waste energy making excess fat, but by cleaving fatty acids from their carrier proteins, we’re able to unlock the natural regulation and make an abundance of fatty acids that can be converted into a number of valuable products. Further, we engineered our E. coli to no longer eat fatty acids or use them for energy.”

After successfully diverting fatty acid metabolism toward the production of fuels and other chemicals from glucose, the JBEI researchers engineered their new strain of E. coli to produce hemicellulases — enzymes that are able to ferment hemicellulose, the complex sugars that are a major constituent of cellulosic biomass and a prime repository for the energy locked within plant cell walls.

Plant waste, such as those from the food industry can now be a source of bio diesel fuel thanks to this engineered strain of E. coli. Another use would be to directly farm plant matter, the kind that we humans don’t use for food, and we have ourselves a source of bio diesel that is renewable, sustainable and potentially cheaper.

Hopefully, this would not lead into a genetic nightmare or be used by the West to retain control over the fuel-producing industry. Then again this might be just another exercise in wishful thinking.

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