Can Genetic Modification Really Lead to Renewable Fuel?
2012-09-11 0:00

By Amanda Warren |

Despite its faults and what it is typically used for, we have to admit that genetic modification is quite an advancement. Can it be corralled to help mankind, similar to the way Tesla technology could have been used more fully to benefit the world?

A lowly, seemingly ordinary bacteria in the soil has been found to use its energy to create complex carbon compounds when under stress. Ralstonia eutropha can convert carbon into its own bioplastic; biodegradable plastic.

Instead of the bacterium making plastic, Christopher Brigham and his MIT biology research team modified the genes, knocking out one and replacing a few others to train the bacteria to create isobutanol alcohol. The alcohol can be easily collected without too much hassle having to filter out the original bacteria.

This could be an amazing kind of alchemy indeed - isobutanol can be blended with or even completely replace gasoline.

Its already used in some racing cars. Currently, ethanol is the touted advancement in fuel, but is only renewable to a point. The use of corn-based ethanol is partially blamed for rising food prices because of the influx of demand for more corn; and it is not the most reliable source during droughts. Many argue that its production is wasting space that could be used to grow edible food.

Furthermore, Brigham is now working on getting the microbe to use carbon dioxide as its carbon source in order to create fuel out of emissions. During the teams lab tests, the bacteria was using sugar - that is, fructose - as their carbon food source, but it could potentially clean up farming and municipal waste and turn it into fuel.


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