Korean researchers have engineered a new strain of E. coli that can produce a suitable substitute for petrol. And as they quite rightly point out, bacteria that poos petroleum could be some valuable s**t.
Digging up fossil resources carries tremendous environmental, monetary, and geopolitical costs, which means figuring out a way to feed the world’s huge addiction to petrol without unearthing crude could have a tremendous impact.
Bacteria, meanwhile, has already proven itself capable of amazing things. It’s responsible for making your booze boozy, and in recent years it has been used to produce everything from gold to diesel fuel. When it comes to producing biofuels, we’re probably most familiar with bacteria that produce ethanol, but as the Korean researchers point out in a new study published in Nature, petroleum has a 30 per cent higher energy content than traditional biofuels.
The new bioengineering process leverages existing E. coli strains to produce short-chain Alkanes molecules, which they claim is a chemically identical replacement for the combination of short-chain hydrocarbons commonly known as petrol. In other words, you could put this bacterial excretion into your car and it would run. The WSJ reports:
When the modified E. coli were fed glucose, found in plants or other non-food crops, 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…
Unfortunately, as the WSJ points out, one liter of glucose produces just 580mg of gas, which is a highly unfavourable yield to say the least. The tech’s too new to power cars anytime soon, but it’s an important step towards motoring the highways, powered by poop. [Nature via Slashdot and WSJ]
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