- Category: Technology
22 Aug 2012
- Published on Wednesday, 22 August 2012 10:57
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Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have genetically engineered the soil bacterium Ralstonia eutropha to produce isobutanol which can be substituted or blended with gasoline for a lower-emitting transportation fuel.
According to Christopher Brigham, a research scientist at M.I.T.’s biology department, in the microbe’s natural state, it stores available carbon in the form of a polymer with a lot of similarities to petroleum-based plastics.
Through genetic engineering – which included inserting a few other genes and modifying some of the existing ones – they were able to get it to produce isobutanol instead of plastic.
The modified R. eutropha naturally expels isobutanol, which can be continuously filtered out without stopping the production process. This is an improvement from similar experiments where a microbe produces a chemical but has to be destroyed in order to extract it.
Under laboratory conditions, the M.I.T. microbes were able to successfully produce isobutanol using fructose as a carbon source.
Ultimately, the team wants to get the microbe to use carbon dioxide as a carbon source. They believe that slightly different modifications could get the microbe to use almost any source of carbon – including agricultural or municipal waste.
Isobutanol is an industrial chemical that can be produced from petroleum as well as different biomass feedstocks. When it is produced from biomass, it’s known as biobutanol and is considered a promising fuel additive.
Commercially, among the main companies working with isobutanol is advanced biofuels company Gevo.
When biobutanol is blended with gasoline it produces a fuel with a high energy density and fewer emissions. The United States Environmental Protection Agency recognizes biobutanol blends of 85 percent or more with gasoline as alternative fuels under its Energy Policy Act of 1992. – EcoSeed Staff