Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Self-destructing bacteria improve renewable biofuel production

Date:
December 8, 2009
Source:
Arizona State University
Summary:
Scientists have developed a process that removes a key obstacle to producing lower-cost, renewable biofuels. The team has programmed a photosynthetic microbe to self-destruct, making the recovery of high-energy fats -- and their biofuel byproducts -- easier and potentially less costly.

Small pond full of cyanobacteria.
Credit: iStockphoto

An Arizona State University research team has developed a process that removes a key obstacle to producing lower-cost, renewable biofuels. The team has programmed a photosynthetic microbe to self-destruct, making the recovery of high-energy fats--and their biofuel byproducts--easier and potentially less costly.

"The real costs involved in any biofuel production are harvesting the goodies and turning them into fuel," said Roy Curtiss, director of the Biodesign Institute's Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology and professor in the School of Life Sciences. "This whole system that we have developed is a means to a green recovery of materials not requiring energy dependent physical or chemical processes."

Curtiss is part of a large, multidisciplinary ASU team that has been focusing on optimizing photosynthetic microbes, called cyanobacteria, as a source of renewable biofuels. These microbes are easy to genetically manipulate and have a potentially higher yield than any plant crops currently being used as transportation fuels.

But, until now, harvesting the fats from the microbes required many cost-intensive processing steps. Cyanobacteria have a multi-layer, burrito-like, protective set of outer membranes that help the bacteria thrive in even harsh surroundings, creating the pond scum often found in backyard swimming pools.

To get the cyanobacteria to more easily release their precious, high fat cargo, Curtiss and postdoctoral researcher Xinyao Liu, placed a suite of genes into photosynthetic bacteria that were controlled by the simple addition of trace amounts of nickel to the growth media.

"Genetics is a very powerful tool," said Liu. "We have created a very flexible system that we can finely control."

The genes were taken from a mortal bacterial enemy, called a bacteriaphage, which infect the bacteria, eventually killing the microbes by causing them to burst like a balloon. The scientists swapped parts from bacteriaphages that infect E. coli and salmonella, simply added nickel to the growth media, where the inserted genes produced enzymes that slowly dissolved the cyanobacteria membranes from within (see figure 1).

This is the first case of using this specialized bacterial system and placing it in cyanobacteria to cause them to self-destruct. "This system is probably one of a kind," said Curtiss, who has filed a patent with Xinyao Liu on the technology. Curtiss has been a pioneer in developing new vaccines, now working on similar systems to develop a safe and effective pneumonia vaccine.

The project is a prime example of the multidisciplinary, collaborative spirit of ASU research. Other key contributors were School of Life Sciences professor Wim Vermaas, an expert on the genetic manipulation techniques of cyanobacteria, Robert Roberson, for help with transmission electron microscopy, Daniel Brune, who did mass spectrometer analyses of the lipid products, and many other colleagues in the ASU biofuel project team.

The project has also been the beneficiary of the state of Arizona's recent strategic investments to spur new innovation that may help foster future green and local industries. The state's abundant year-round sunshine and warm temperatures are ideally suited for growing cyanobacteria.

"This probably would never have gone anywhere if Science Foundation Arizona or BP had not funded the project," said Curtiss. The $5 million in funding was key to scaling up and recruiting new talent to work on the project, including paper first author Xinyao Liu, an expert in microbiology and genetics who had recently earned his Ph.D. from the Peking University in Beijing, China.

"Xinyao is unique," said Curtiss. "If he were a baseball player, he wouldn't be satisfied with anything less than a 1000 home runs in 10 years. Xinyao is always swinging for the fences. Now, we are moving forward with a number of new approaches to see how far we can push the envelope." The next phase of the research is being funded by a two-year, $5.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) led by researcher Wim Vermaas, Curtiss, Liu and others from the ASU biofuel team.

The results were published in the Dec. 7 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Arizona State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Arizona State University. "Self-destructing bacteria improve renewable biofuel production." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 December 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091207173624.htm>.
Arizona State University. (2009, December 8). Self-destructing bacteria improve renewable biofuel production. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091207173624.htm
Arizona State University. "Self-destructing bacteria improve renewable biofuel production." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091207173624.htm (accessed September 17, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Some Tobacco Farmers Thrive Amid Challenges

Some Tobacco Farmers Thrive Amid Challenges

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) The South's tobacco country is surviving, and even thriving in some cases, as demand overseas keeps growers in the fields of one of America's oldest cash crops. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Scientists Given Rare Glimpse of 350-Kilo Colossal Squid

Scientists Given Rare Glimpse of 350-Kilo Colossal Squid

AFP (Sep. 16, 2014) Scientists say a female colossal squid weighing an estimated 350 kilograms (770 lbs) and thought to be only the second intact specimen ever found was carrying eggs when discovered in the Antarctic. Duration: 00:47 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Scientists Examine Colossal Squid

Raw: Scientists Examine Colossal Squid

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) Squid experts in New Zealand thawed and examined an unusual catch on Tuesday: a colossal squid. It was captured in Antarctica's remote Ross Sea in December last year and has been frozen for eight months. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ivorians Abandon Monkey Pets in Fear Over Ebola Virus

Ivorians Abandon Monkey Pets in Fear Over Ebola Virus

AFP (Sep. 16, 2014) Since the arrival of Ebola in Ivory Coast, Ivorians have been abandoning their pets, particularly monkeys, in the fear that they may transmit the virus. Duration: 00:47 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

    Technology News



    Save/Print:
    Share:

    Free Subscriptions


    Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

    Get Social & Mobile


    Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

    Have Feedback?


    Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
    Mobile: iPhone Android Web
    Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
    Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
    Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins