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Self-destructing bacteria improve renewable biofuel production
Date:12/7/2009

TEMPE, Ariz.- An Arizona State University research team has developed a process that removes a key obstacle to producing lower-cost, renewable biofuels. The team has programmed a photosynthetic microbe to self-destruct, making the recovery of high-energy fats--and their biofuel byproducts--easier and potentially less costly.

"The real costs involved in any biofuel production are harvesting the goodies and turning them into fuel," said Roy Curtiss, director of the Biodesign Institute's Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology and professor in the School of Life Sciences. "This whole system that we have developed is a means to a green recovery of materials not requiring energy dependent physical or chemical processes."

Curtiss is part of a large, multidisciplinary ASU team that has been focusing on optimizing photosynthetic microbes, called cyanobacteria, as a source of renewable biofuels. These microbes are easy to genetically manipulate and have a potentially higher yield than any plant crops currently being used as transportation fuels.

But, until now, harvesting the fats from the microbes required many cost-intensive processing steps. Cyanobacteria have a multi-layer, burrito-like, protective set of outer membranes that help the bacteria thrive in even harsh surroundings, creating the pond scum often found in backyard swimming pools.

To get the cyanobacteria to more easily release their precious, high fat cargo, Curtiss and postdoctoral researcher Xinyao Liu, placed a suite of genes into photosynthetic bacteria that were controlled by the simple addition of trace amounts of nickel to the growth media.

"Genetics is a very powerful tool," said Liu. "We have created a very flexible system that we can finely control."

The genes were taken from a mortal bacterial enemy, called a bacteriaphage, which infect the bacteria, eventually killing the microbes by causing them to burst like a balloon. The scie
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Contact: Joe Caspermeyer
joseph.caspermeyer@asu.edu
480-727-0369
Arizona State University
Source:Eurekalert

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