Crop Biotech Update

Cellulose-Producing Cyanobacteria: A Potential Microbially-based Biofuel Feedstock

April 25, 2008
Scientists from the University of Texas at Austin (United States) have developed a cellulose-producing microorganism which can be used as a biofuel feedstock without having to utilize arable land. The microorganism belongs to a phylum (taxonomic group) of bacteria, called “Cyanobacteria” (sometimes known as “blue green algae”). The scientific team of Professor R.Malcolm Brown, Jr and Dr. David Nobles, also discovered that their cellulose-producing cyanobacteria could also secrete simple sugars like glucose and sucrose. These are the raw materials needed for the fermentative production of bioethanol. In developing the microorganism, the scientists took a cyanobacterium, and successfully inserted the cellulose-producing genes of a non-photosynthetic “vinegar” bacterium, Acetobacter xylinum, a well known producer of lignin-free bacterial cellulose. The photosynthetic and nitrogen-fixing ability of the genetically-modified microorganism can allow its growth as a biofuel feedstock without the need for expensive cultivation inputs: “(1) The new cyanobacteria use sunlight as an energy source to produce and excrete sugars and cellulose, (2) Glucose, cellulose and sucrose can be continually harvested without harming or destroying the cyanobacteria, and (3) Cyanobacteria that can fix atmospheric nitrogen can be grown without petroleum-based fertilizer input”. According to Brown and Nobles, the cyanobacteria “can be grown in production facilities on non-agricultural lands using salty water unsuitable for human consumption or crops”..