Researchers Bioengineer Bacteria That Poops Out Gasoline

Illustration for article titled Researchers Bioengineer Bacteria That Poops Out Gasoline

Korean researchers have engineered a new strain of E. coli that can produce a suitable substitute for gasoline. And as they quite rightly point out, bacteria that poops out petroleum could be some valuable shit.


Digging up fossil resources carries tremendous environmental, monetary, and geopolitical costs, which means figuring out a way to feed the world's huge addiction to gasoline without unearthing crude could have a tremendous impact.

Bacteria, meanwhile, has already proven itself capable of amazing things. It's responsible for making your booze boozy, and in recent years it has been used to produce everything from gold to diesel fuel. When it comes to producing biofuels, we're probably most familiar with bacteria that produce ethanol, but as the Korean researchers point out in a new study published in Nature, petroleum has a 30-percent higher energy content than traditional biofuels.

The new bioengineering process leverages existing E. coli strains to produce short-chain Alkanes molecules, which they claim is a chemically identical replacement for the combination of short-chain hydrocarbons commonly known as gasoline. In other words, you could put this bacterial excretion into your car and it would run. The WSJ reports:

When the modified E. coli were fed glucose, found in plants or other non-food crops, the enzymes they produced converted the sugar into fatty acids and then turned these into hydrocarbons that were chemically and structurally identical to those found in commercial fuel...

Unfortunately, as the WSJ points out, one liter of glucose produces just 580 milligrams of gas, which is a highly unfavorable yield to say the least. The tech's too new to power cars anytime soon, but it's an important step towards motoring the highways, powered by poop. [Nature via Slashdot and WSJ]

Image by Alexander Raths/Shutterstock




Ok, so now they need some bacteria that produces glucose out of air and another that metabolizes the toxic wastes of the first two bacteria and you have a self sufficient, gasoline producing thing happening. Sounds promising, hope they don't shelve the tech!

So lets see. there is GM bacteria that makes my B12 supplement. There is new GM bacteria that makes my hyularonic acid supplement. There is new GM bacteria that makes spider silk protein in Japan. I'll bet eventually someone will invent a biofilm of various bacteria that you swallow and all the bacteria will make all the nutrients you need from like a pill of sugar.