Man-made bacteria that EATS carbon dioxide and turns it into eco-friendly biofuels could help tackle climate change, scientists claim
- Escherichia coli bacteria have been engineered by scientists to consume CO2
- Scientists removed some genes added one for an enzyme that converts CO2
- The bacteria feed off carbon dioxide instead of sugar to produce biofuels
Bacteria that feed off carbon dioxide instead of sugar could be used to produce biofuels in the future.
Escherichia coli bacteria have been engineered by scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel to convert CO2 to energy for themselves while generating biomass that can be used as biofuel.
Several strands of Escherichia coli bacteria are already used to create biofuels however they normally feed off sugar – which is not a freely abundant substance.
By adding genes for an enzyme that converts CO2 to the E. coli genome and removing others, used for metabolising sugar, the team was able to change the source the bacteria use to survive.
Several strands of Escherichia coli bacteria (pictured) are already used to create biofuels however they normally feed off sugar – which is not a freely abundant substance (stock)
To prove they had truly lost the need for sugar to survive scientists left the bacteria in a lab for 200 days.
On returning to the bacteria they found that the microbes had successfully evolved – and had grown without needing sugar.
WHAT ARE E. COLI?
Escherichia coli is a rod- shaped bacterium (bacillus).
Its cell membrane is covered in fine filaments called pili or fimbriae.
Hair-like structures called flagella at the rear of each bacterium provide propulsion to make it move.
E. coli is a normal component of the intestinal bacterial flora, but under certain conditions some strains can cause severe infections such as gastroenteritis.
The bacteria’s genome can be easily manipulated by scientists to carry out various functions.
Ron Milo who led the study told The New Scientist that the team didn’t expect to be able to make such ‘dramatic changes’ to the bacteria’s genome.
Some work will still be needed to reduce the bacteria’s CO2 emissions – the bacteria release more CO2 in the growing process than they consume.
Modified E. coli could be used to generate other chemicals in future – they could even use the CO2 produced as a byproduct of the steel or concrete industry to produce insulin for diabetics.
Frank Sargent at Newcastle University, told the New Scientist the technology has ‘endless possibilities’.
He said: ‘This type of directed evolution is already a Nobel prize-winning type of science and this is a terrific example of why.’
E.coli could even be manipulated to produce a substance found in magic mushrooms that wards off depression, research suggests.
A team from Miami University genetically engineered the bacteria to churn out the psychoactive chemical psilocybin.
The cell becomes autotrophic after being modified. Autotroughs are organisms that can produce their own food from the substances available in their surroundings
Best known for triggering ‘trippy’ hallucinations, it is increasingly being tested as a treatment for psychiatric disorders, like addiction, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
If ever approved for these conditions, scientists will want to produce psilocybin without harvesting copious amounts of mushrooms, the team said.
After producing an E.coli strain that contains psilocybin, the scientists managed to increase its production by 500 times over 18 months.
Modified E. coli could be used to generate other chemicals in future (stock)