e. coli gets a proper job

Instead of hanging around dodgy kebab places waiting to kill someone, e. coli bacteria can be used to make petrol.

Boffins working for iofuel start-up LS9 have worked out a way of converting non-food biomass into biodiesel using a genetically modified form of e. coli.

Work carried out with with the University of California at Berkeley and the US Department of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), may have hit on a way of lowering the cost of making biodiesel from wood chips, corn stover, and other residual agricultural products.

According to the journal Nature, LS9 is one of a handful of US synthetic biology companies that are manipulating microorganisms to convert plants into liquid fuels or plastics.

LS9 is opening a demonstration facility in the US to convert sugar cane into biodiesel and plans to be in fuel production by 2012.

Stephen del Cardayre, the vice president of research and development at the company, said the boffins tuned another strain of e. coli that can work with different feedstocks, such as straw or wood.

While these cellulosic feedstocks are typically harder to convert into fuel through fermentation than sugar cane or corn, but offer the potential of lower overall greenhouse gas emissions.

This second-generation process will take “a few years” to further develop, Del Cardayre said.

But it avoids costly pretreatment processes and will lower the cost of production.