Researchers at the University of Texas have created a microbe that produces cellulose that can be turned into ethanol and biofuel. If production can be scaled up, the microbes can produce a large portion of the country’s transportation fuel. The cyanobacteria also secretes glucose and sucrose along with cellulose. Glucose and sucrose can be used to produce ethanol. “The cyanobacterium is potentially a very inexpensive source for sugars to use for ethanol and designer fuels,” says Dr. David Nobles Jr., a research associate in the Section of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology.
The cyanobacteria developed by Professor R. Malcom Brown Jr. and Dr. Noble use sunlight as an energy source, and the glucose, cellulose and sucrose can be continually harvested without hurting or destroying the bacteria, which means that it truly is renewable.
Dr. Nobles made the new cyanobacteria by inserting a set of cellulose-making genes from a non-photosynthetic “vinegar” bacterium, Acetobacter xylinum. The new bacteria creates a relatively pure gel form of cellulose that can be easily broken down into glocose because it doesn’t have any lignins in it, unlike cellulose from plants.
Of course there’s alot of work ahead with this. While they’ve been able to achieve a 17 fold increase in productivity in their lab using photobioreactors, but those types of efficiencies will need to be achieved in the field and on a much larger scale.