Genetic engineering yields hope for fossil fuel replacement
DailyTech previously covered startup LS9 Inc.’s efforts to genetically engineer microbes to produce synthetic fuels. After initial efforts to genetically modify both yeast and bacteria to produce long-chain hydrocarbons, they have since focused their efforts on a particular common bacterium — E. Coli.
E. Coli is commonly found in feces, and the LS9 researchers have succeeded in a rather ironic goal — genetically modifying the bacteria to excrete diesel fuel. After much research and genetic modification, LS9 says it has used a variety of common sugar metabolic pathways to force E. Coli to convert virtually any sugar-containing substance in part to carbon chains virtually indistinguishable with diesel.
The bacteria “poop” out this black gold, while using part of the sugar to fuel their growth and reproduction as well. The net result is that any carbon source can be turned into synthetic fuel by the economic bacteria.
Biochemist Stephen del Cardayre, LS9 vice president of research and development, says his company has come a long way. He states, “We started in my garage two years ago, and we’re producing barrels today, so things are moving pretty quickly.”
He explains the process of creating the microbes, stating, “So these are bacteria that have been engineered to produce oil. They started off like regular lab bacteria that didn’t produce oil, but we took genes from nature, we engineered them a bit [and] put them into this organism so that we can convert sugar to oil.”