A collaboration led by researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy's Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) has developed a microbe that can produce an advanced biofuel directly from biomass. Deploying the tools of synthetic biology, the JBEI researchers engineered a strain of Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria to produce biodiesel fuel and other important chemicals derived from fatty acids.
"The fact that our microbes can produce a diesel fuel directly from biomass with no additional chemical modifications is exciting and important," says Jay Keasling, the Chief Executive Officer for JBEI, and a leading scientific authority on synthetic biology. "Given that the costs of recovering biodiesel are nowhere near the costs required to distill ethanol, we believe our results can significantly contribute to the ultimate goal of producing scalable and cost effective advanced biofuels and renewable chemicals."
Keasling led the collaboration, which was was made up of a team from JBEI's Fuels Synthesis Division that included Eric Steen, Yisheng Kang and Gregory Bokinsky, and a team from LS9, a privately-held industrial biotechnology firm based in South San Francisco. The LS9 team was headed by Stephen del Cardayre and included Zhihao Hu, Andreas Schirmer and Amy McClure. The collaboration has published the results of their research in the January 28, 2010 edition of the journal Nature. The paper is titled, "Microbial Production of Fatty Acid-Derived Fuels and Chemicals from Plant Biomass."
A combination of ever-increasing energy costs and global warming concerns has created an international imperative for new transportation fuels that are renewable and can be produced in a sustainable fashion. Scientific studies have consistently shown that liquid fuels derived from plant biomass are one of the best alternatives if a cost-effective means of commercial production can be found. Major research efforts to this end are focused on
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DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory