Researchers at Bio Architecture Lab, Inc. and the University of Washington in Seattle have built a microbe that’s capable of digesting seaweed and converting it into ethanol or other fuels or chemicals. Many scientists think that seaweed is a perfect plant to turn into biofuel – it doesn’t require any land that normally would be used for food crops, and it doesn’t need any special irrigation or fertilizers. In addition, seaweed doesn’t contain any lignin, which is the compound of complex sugars that stiffens the stalks of land based plants and makes them so difficult to break down into biofuel.
The genetically designed microbe is based on Escherichia coli, better known as E. coli. The research team took the E. coli and added genes from other microbes that can break down alginate, which is the main sugar molecule in the seaweed. Tests have shown that the bacteria operate best at relatively low temperatures of 25 – 30 degrees Celsius, which means that the bacteria can turn seaweed into fuel without adding any additional energy. The E. coli also doesn’t like the ocean environment, so there’s no chance of the microbes escaping into the ocean.
Synthetic biologist Yasuo Yoshikuni, a co-founder of Bio-Architecture Lab, says that they believe that seaweed can be used for make other chemicals such as isobutanol or even compounds that could be turned into plastics. “Consider the microbe as the chassis with engineered functional modules. If we integrate other pathways instead of the ethanol pathway, this microbe can be a platform for converting sugar into a variety of molecules.”
via: Scientific American