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E.Coli may hold key to turning plants into biofuel

Last Updated: Thursday, November 17, 2011 - 19:26

London: Common stomach bug E.coli may hold the key to turning plants into biodiesel, which is hailed as a possible solution to reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, a team led by an Indian-origin scientist has claimed.

Biodiesel, made from either plants or used cooking oil, is already in use. But most vehicles that use biodiesel use reprocessed cooking oil, which is too expensive to work on a large commercial scale. For biodiesel to make a real impact, it would have to come directly from plants.

Now, researchers led by Professor Chaitan Khosla at the University of Stanford said the chemical process to produce cheap plant-based biodiesel could be within reach Experiments with E coli, they said, have hinted that the bacteria can help convert plant sugars into fatty acid derivatives -- a chemical more similar to soap, but a good
precursor of workable fuel, the Daily Mail reported.

However, they were not sure whether the bugs had enoughchemical "oomph" to be used commercially.

They then investigated whether there was a theoretical "limit" to the amount E. Coli can help to turn sugar into a fatty acid derivative -- that is whether the bacteria really
does have the power to unlock fuel from ordinary plants.

It appears the answer is, "Yes", the researchers said in a report published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"The good news is that the engine that makes fatty acids in E Coli is incredibly powerful," said Khosla. "It can convert sugar into fuel at an extraordinary rate."

But this process is tightly controlled by the bacteria -- and fuller understanding of the biochemistry of E. Coli will be required, the researchers said. (More) PTI SKP AKJ
Khosla`s team are already working on this – having isolated the molecular engine that produces fatty acids in a lab environment.

"We want to understand what limits the ability of E. Coli to process sugar," said Khosla. "The question we were asking is like what limits the speed of my Honda to 150 miles an

So far, it appears that the bacteria limit the production to stop themselves being hurt by the fatty acids they produce.

The "defences" it uses are highly effective, but the researchers are already working on manipulating the bacteria to produce more. If successful, biodiesel could suddenly leap
from being a novelty to being a viable, commercial fuel.
Bureau Report
"It`s closer to a barrel of oil from Saudi Arabia than any other biologically derived fuel," Khosla added.


First Published: Thursday, November 17, 2011 - 19:26
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