E. coli: the source of the 'next biofuel'
Scientists have genetically engineered E. coli that is highly efficient in
producing butanol, a promising new type of biofuel.
This new technology could speed up the development of butanol biofuels into a
cost-effective alternative to ethanol.
Butanol – many attractive
"It [butanol] has many attractive properties," says Jim
McMillan, manager of biorefining process R&D at the National Renewable
Energy Laboratory's National Bioenergy Center, in Golden, CO. Because butanol
packs more energy per gallon than ethanol does, cars running on butanol get
better mileage. And, unlike ethanol, it doesn't mix with water, so it can be
shipped in existing petroleum pipelines without causing problems.
research groups are engineering microbes that can convert sugar from various
feedstocks into butanol. Most of these groups rely on the bacterium Clostridium
acetobutylicum, which naturally makes a form of butanol called 1-butanol.
However, this bacterium grows slowly and is not easy to genetically
Manipulating E. coli bacterium
James Liao, a
chemical engineer at the University of California, and his colleagues are
looking into using E. coli. Although the bacterium does not produce butanol
naturally, it is easy to modify and grows fast. Liao says that he can program E.
coli to produce small amounts of butanol by diverting some of the
microorganism's metabolites into alcohol production. With further genetic
modifications, Liao was able to dramatically increase the efficiency of the
process. With further manipulation, the engineered microbes achieved efficiency
high enough for industrial use.
Gevo, a biofuels startup based in
Pasadena, CA, has acquired an exclusive license to commercialise Liao's
technology. "It's a real breakthrough…We believe isobutanol is a superior fuel,"
says Mathew Peters, Gevo's chief scientific officer.
Dossier AllAbout Bio Energy
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