Genetically-engineered E. coli poops out propane

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Propane is an appealing fuel, easily stored and already used worldwide, but it’s extracted from the finite supply of fossil fuels – or is it? Researchers at Imperial College London and the University of Turku have engineered E. coli bacteria that create engine-ready propane out of fatty acids, and in the future, maybe even sunlight…

With the premise of producing a fuel that’s more sustainable in a biological host and easier to bring to market, the research team engineered a pathway in E. coli that interrupts the conversion of fatty acids into cell membranes and instead couples naturally unlinked enzymatic processes to manufacture propane…

“Although this research is at a very early stage, our proof of concept study provides a method for renewable production of a fuel that previously was only accessible from fossil reserves,” said Dr Patrik Jones, from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College London. “Although we have only produced tiny amounts so far, the fuel we have produced is ready to be used in an engine straight away. This opens up possibilities for future sustainable production of renewable fuels that at first could complement, and thereafter replace fossil fuels like diesel, petrol, natural gas and jet fuel.”

Manufacturing useable quantities of propane is the goal for future experiments, along with recreating the process in photosynthetic organisms, so that propane could truly be manufactured with the power of sunlight.

Genetic manipulation continues to forge ahead in the realm of molecular biologists. While I share the humor of fellow sci-fi fans, I doubt the fear of synthetic overlords is justifiable – given the requisite conservatism of the craft.

Though, poisonally, I ain’t holding my breath until this process is productive enough to be commercially viable.

One thought on “Genetically-engineered E. coli poops out propane

  1. moss says:

    I wonder how the molecular biologists we knew in common Back East would resolve today’s discussions on what class and species deserve the most attention for genetic engineering to produce anything directly useful. I recall one focussing his career on fungus – that didn’t work out because I see he’s back to teaching post-doc. Another grounded in cancer research has stayed in that field exclusively. And there are those I see in specialized journals still dedicated to creating yeasts to ferment plant sources while others – like folks in this post modifying bacteria.

    More diversity than ever – and I bet the same arguments are stronger than ever.

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