Washington University Receives Grant to Turn Bacteria into Biofuel Producers


Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have recently received a $3.9 million grant from the Department of Energy (DOE) to develop a bacterium that manufactures renewable biofuels from plants.

The researchers seek to make biofuels that would not compete with the food supply. The researchers will aim to engineer microbes that can make biofuels from a toxic waste product of papermaking called lignin. Millions of tons of lignin are generated from papermaking and lignocellulose-based biofuel industries.

The project also aims to produce biofuels that could fully replace petroleum-based fuels. While today's cars can burn fuel with 10-15 percent ethanol, specialized engines are required when the fuel blend is mostly or entirely alcohol-based. Renewable biofuels that are chemically similar to fossil fuels would be a major development.

The researchers will be studying a type of bacteria called Rhodococcus opacus, originally discovered growing on toxic compounds outside a chemical plant. These bacteria thrive on these toxic compounds, using them as a source of food for the production of biofuels.


This article is part of the Crop Biotech Update, a weekly summary of world developments in agri-biotech for developing countries, produced by the Global Knowledge Center on Crop Biotechnology, International Service for the Aquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications SEAsiaCenter (ISAAA)

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