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Can microorganisms be a solution to the world's energy problems?
Date:7/10/2008

elieve the future of microbial bioenergy is brightened by recent advancements in genome technologies and other molecular-biology techniques.

Unlike the E. coli situation, using just one species may not work well for bioenergy, since, in nature, bacteria do not grow in isolation. In other words, no bacterium is an island. The very biodiversity that fills the Earth with bacteria and offers great bioenergy potential also presents a challenge for engineers. Even if one picks the ideal "bug," growing, maintaining, and optimizing conditions for its use in bioenergy applications remains a daunting challenge in terms of scalability and reliability.

"Microbial communities that are used to harvest energy must be resilient to fluctuations in environmental conditions, variations in nutrient and energy inputs and intrusion by microbial invaders that might consume the desired energy product," say the authors. The key to large-scale success in microbial bioenergy is managing the microbial community so that that the community delivers the desired bioenergy product reliably and at high rate.

In the absence of these molecular techniques, the authors state, our understanding of methanogenic communities progressed through slow, incremental advances over several decades. Today, society cannot wait decades for new bioenergy sources. Fortunately, an array of pre-genomic, genomic, and post-genomic tools is available to understand microorganisms involved in bioenergy production. Taking full advantage of these tools will greatly speed up scientific and technological advances, which is what society most needs.

Genomics provides the base sequence of the entire DNA in an organism, and the complete genome reveals all the possible biological reactions that a microorganism can carry out. In the past, complete genomes were only obtained for those microorganisms that could be isolated into pure culture, but it is now possible to sequence the genome
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Contact: Joe Caspermeyer
joseph.caspermeyer@asu.edu
480-727-0369
Arizona State University
Source:Eurekalert

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