The Loh Down On Science

A remarkable solution for caffeine pollution!

Image courtesy of Quandt and others, American Chemical Society, 2013.

Schematic illustrating Insertion of a gene cluster from Pseudomonas aeruginosa into Escherischia coli. E coli can now turn caffeine into the valuable amino-acid precursor, the compound xanthine.

Are you ready to meet the world's smallest caffeine addict?

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

For some, a Starbucks on every corner is a dream come true.  But caffeine literally everywhere is not a good thing.  Unfortunately, caffeine from pharmaceuticals and beverages is polluting our water.

Biochemists in Iowa thought maybe, just maybe, microbes could clean up the mess.  So they set out to build a bacteria that absorbs caffeine, in a big way.

See, some soil bacteria already eat caffeine, but they eat other stuff, too.  The scientists wanted a germ to not just eat it, but need it.

So they inserted genes from the soil bacteria into everyone's favorite microbe, E. coli.  After lots of inserting, they had a new strain of E. coli that literally dies without caffeine.

The new strain can measure the caffeine content of beverages . . . and turn it into decaf!  Or it can suck caffeine from polluted waters.  There's no caffeine it won't tackle!

Except mine.  My coffee.  My chocolate.  Just keep away, germs.  Just.  Keep.  Away.


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