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Bacteria may affordably turn plants into biodiesel.

U.S. researchers have announced progress in converting plant sugars directly into biodiesel by modifying the Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacterium. The creation of biofuel straight from Brazilian sugar cane has been hailed as a "milestone" in producing lower-cost biofuels.

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"The fact that our microbes can produce a diesel fuel directly from biomass with no additional chemical modifications is exciting and important," said project leader Jay Keasling of the U.S. Department of Energy's Joint BioEnergy Institute. "We believe our results can significantly contribute to the ultimate goal of producing scalable and cost-effective advanced biofuels and renewable chemicals."

Scientists previously had been aware of E. coli's ability to synthesize fatty acids, key ingredients in forming biofuels efficiently, but the bacterium typically produces only what it needs to survive. Researchers from the Joint BioEnergy Institute and biotech firm LS9 were able to manipulate the E. coli to generate a fatty acid surplus, the team explained in the journal Nature.

The resulting biodiesel is estimated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 85 percent, compared with conventional diesel, over the fuel's life cycle. The researchers plan to expand the process beyond sugar cane to grass or crop waste.

by Ben Block

(unless otherwise credited)

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Title Annotation:EYE ON EARTH
Author:Block, Ben
Publication:World Watch
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2010
Words:202
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