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E. coli engineered to produce biodiesel

Date:
September 11, 2010
Source:
Rutgers University
Summary:
New research is shedding light on how to alter the genetic makeup of E. coli to produce biodiesel fuel derived from fatty acids.

The E. coli microorganism can be modified to make it overproduce fatty acids.
Credit: Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIH/NIAID

One mention of E. coli conjures images of sickness and food poisoning, but the malevolent bacteria may also be the key to the future of renewable energy.

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Desmond Lun, an associate professor of computer science at Rutgers University-Camden, is researching how to alter the genetic makeup of E. coli to produce biodiesel fuel derived from fatty acids.

"If we can engineer biological organisms to produce biodiesel fuels, we'll have a new way of storing and using energy," Lun says.

Creating renewable energy by making fuels, like making ethanol out of corn, has been a common practice in trying to achieve sustainability.

However, Lun says, "It's widely acknowledged that making fuel out of food sources is not very sustainable. It's too expensive and it competes with our food sources."

One alternative is to modify the E. coli microorganism to make it overproduce fatty acids, which are used to make biodiesel.

"Fatty acid molecules aren't that different from a lot of fuel molecules," says Lun, a Philadelphia resident. "Biodiesel is something that we can generate quite easily. E. coli has been used as a lab organism for more than 60 years and it's well-studied. We know a lot about its genetics and how to manipulate it. We've got to make quite drastic changes to do it and it requires major intervention."

That's where Lun's computer science expertise comes in. Lun builds computational models of the E. coli organisms to determine what would happen if changes are made. Those changes could include removing enzymes to enhance fatty acid production.

"We call it synthetic biology," he says. "It's sort of the next stage of genetic engineering. Instead of making small changes to specific genes, we're really modifying large sections of genome. We're putting in entirely new traits rather than modifying existing traits."

Lun explains, "The unique aspect of my work is this emphasis on computational modeling as a way of guiding it. Even these simple bacteria are immensely complex. Computational modeling can offer a way to speed up the process and make it a faster, better process."

Fatty acid production in the altered bacteria would be enhanced, paving the way for biofuel development.

Lun is collaborating with researchers from Harvard University on his E. coli project.


Story Source:

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


Cite This Page:

Rutgers University. "E. coli engineered to produce biodiesel." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 September 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100903104828.htm>.
Rutgers University. (2010, September 11). E. coli engineered to produce biodiesel. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100903104828.htm
Rutgers University. "E. coli engineered to produce biodiesel." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100903104828.htm (accessed December 20, 2014).

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