Crop Biotech Update

E. Coli Engineered to Eat Switchgrass and Produce Fuels

December 2, 2011

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy reported the first strains of Escherichia coli that have been engineered to digest switchgrass biomass and make transportation fuels without needing enzyme additives.

"This work shows that we can reduce one of the most expensive parts of the biofuel production process, the addition of enzymes to depolymerize cellulose and hemicellulose into fermentable sugars," says Jay Keasling, CEO of JBEI and leader of this research. "This will enable us to reduce fuel production costs by consolidating two steps – depolymerizing cellulose and hemicellulose into sugars, and fermenting the sugars into fuels – into a single step or one pot operation."

The researchers believe that E. coli is one of the biggest factors why their research has been successful. Because of the bacterium's "unparalleled genetic and metabolic tractability", it has been successfully used for many years to produce various chemical products. Their next goal is to increase the yields of the fuels that they were able to synthesize from switchgrass.

Read the media release at and the research paper at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS):