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High-octane bacteria could ease pain at the pump: Engineered E. coli mass-produce key precursor to potent biofuel

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Posted June 26, 2013
By rerouting the metabolic pathway that makes fatty acids in E. coli bacteria like these, Wyss Institute researchers have devised a new way to produce a gasoline-like biofuel. Credit: Wyss Institute, Harvard University

By rerouting the metabolic pathway that makes fatty acids in E. coli bacteria like these, Wyss Institute researchers have devised a new way to produce a gasoline-like biofuel. Credit: Wyss Institute, Harvard University

New lines of engineered bacteria can tailor-make key precursors of high-octane biofuels that could one day replace gasoline, scientists at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and the Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School report in the June 24 online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

 

The same lines can also produce precursors of pharmaceuticals, bioplastics, herbicides, detergents, and more.

“The big contribution is that we were able to program cells to make specific fuel precursors,” said Pamela Silver, Ph.D., a Wyss Institute Core Faculty member, Professor of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School, and senior author of the study.

New biofuels are needed for cars and other vehicles. Ethanol, the most popular biofuel on the market, packs only two-thirds the energy of gasoline, and ethanol-containing fuels also corrode pipes, tanks, and other infrastructure used to transport and store gasoline. Meanwhile, burning gasoline itself adds huge amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, and relies on the world’s dwindling supply of oil.

Yet gasoline produces more energy than current biofuels when burned in an internal combustion engine, and remains liquid in temperatures ranging from a Texas heat wave to a North Dakota cold snap. Moreover, hundreds of millions of cars worldwide are built to run on it.

Read more at: Phys.org

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