Scientists genetically modify bacteria to turn household waste into fuel

Researchers at MIT in Boston genetically modified a soil bacterium called Ralstonia eutropha. When stressed, it usually stops growing and put all its energy into making complex carbon compounds. Now scientists at MIT have manipulated its genes to persuade it to make fuel, in the form of, a kind of alcohol called isobutanol that can be directly substituted for, or blended with, petrol.

The researcher behind the project even hopes it could be used to turn emissions into fuel.

Christopher Brigham, a research scientist in MIT’s biology department, is leading the project.

He said that in the microbe’s natural state, when its source of essential nutrients such as nitrate or phosphate is restricted, ‘it will go into carbon-storage mode,’ essentially storing away food for later use when it senses that resources are limited.

‘What it does is take whatever carbon is available, and stores it in the form of a polymer, which is similar in its properties to a lot of petroleum-based plastics,’ Brigham says.

By knocking out a few genes, inserting a gene from another organism and tinkering with the expression of other genes, Brigham and his colleagues found they could redirect the microbe to make fuel instead of plastic.

The same microbe could also potentially turn almost any source of carbon, including agricultural waste or municipal waste, into useful fuel.

Daily Mail

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7 responses to “Scientists genetically modify bacteria to turn household waste into fuel

  1. Having at least one Highland ancestor, I must condemn this intrusion into the liquor industry.

  2. If this can be scaled to be commercially feasible, this is good news. Landfills can become a sort of refinery; the fuel might be a good source of electricity even if it may not be a good transportation fuel (or it might be).
    THe worst thing that could happen now is subsidy. The test is commercial feasibility, which precludes government selection of winner or loser. Subsidies will mask the true economics, possibly causing a valuable option to be discarded or (more often ) a worthless one to be extended.

  3. The problem with any alcohol (other than ethanol) is that not only is it toxic of itself, but the aldehydes/ketones and the organic acids that are produced by mild oxidation (photoloysis in air, aerobic metabolism) are even nastier.
    I recently saw one proposal for butanol, obviously put together by someone with little knowledge of chemistry, which completely overlooked the fact that butanol vapors on a sunny day smell like a mixture of vomit and rancid butter (butyric acid).
    Not a winning choice for a neighborhood fuel station…

  4. Hey Junkman,
    This is one of those stories where I must admit my own ignorance by admitting (seriously), “What’s your point?” with this article? I often enjoy reading your posted articles and references, but sometimes I’m a bit confused. Your website, of course, is “Junk Science”. Since you are posting this article on your ‘Junk Science’ website without any additional commentary, am I supposed to assume that this article represents “Junk Science” ? Isn’t that the point or your website? If it isn’t what you consider ‘junk’, then a positive comment or two would be nice to clarify your point-of-view. Yes, I know that I’m supposed to think for myself, but, again, the goal of your website, at least at face value, it to report what you consider ‘junk science’. So if you list an article w/o comment, then it stands to reason that you consider it junk. Right? If not, how are readers to differentiate between articles? Are critical style comments, from yourself, the only hint that we get that you disagree with the scientific approach of a particular article? Again, perhaps I’m the only one with this bit of confusion, but I would appreciate a comment back on your general intent is. Thanks for your time!

    • General news & views used to be a separate service, now incorporated into the main site. The item to which you refer had a biotech application (hot button issue for many), waste to energy (another long argued-about concept) and biofuels (build a better mousetrap) and as such adds to the topics previously discussed.

      These items may come as a bit of a surprise to new or very infrequent readers and for that I apologize.

  5. Howdy tadchem
    Sounds like the morning after a wild party.

  6. Put the new plant next to the pig farms, who would notice?

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