The Loh Down On Science

Scientists engineer bacteria to make fuel!

Is the fuel of the future … in our stomachs?  Ew!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

E. coli, our most famous gut bacteria, gets a bad rap.  While some strains cause food poisoning, most are entirely harmless.  Overall, E. coli is just like us, in that it eats some things and excretes others.  When it munches on certain fats, for instance, it oozes carbon-hydrogen chains called alkanes.  That’s the stuff of fuels like gasoline.  But in totally different, unusable forms. 

Enter John Love from the University of Exeter.  He took metabolism-related genes from various bacteria.  He then cleverly placed them in E. coli cells to rework the cells' digestive plumbing.  One gene helps pre-digest fats into the branched forms needed to make fuel.  Another snips these into the correct lengths.  Finally, a four-gene complex refines the fats into the exact molecules that flow at the pump!

Unlike today’s biofuels, this product is totally compatible with existing engines!  If successful, the Lilliputian pipelines could one day pump out an endless stream of readymade fuel.

They say an army runs on its stomach.  Perhaps soon your car can!

***** For more 90-SECOND SCIENCE FACTS, click here.*****

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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