Genetically engineered microorganism produces usable fuel from carbon dioxide

Researchers all over the globe have been warning the world about the declining fossil fuel reserves, which are an essential part of our fast paced lives. Fossil fuel, the unavailability of which, will almost bring our transportation solutions to a standstill, can’t be replenished anytime soon. As a response, auto manufacturers are gearing up for such a future with electric and hydrogen vehicles. However, electricity too is majorly produced using coal, which in itself is a fossil fuel. To answer the threats, researchers at MIT have genetically modified a humble soil bacterium called Ralstonia Eutropha, to give it an ability to produce gasoline-compatible fuel from carbon dioxide.

The microbe has a natural tendency to go into a carbon-storage mode, when its access to nutrients such as nitrates and phosphates is restricted. On sensing a reduction in available sources, the microbe starts storing carbon in the form of a polymer, which is similar to petroleum-based plastic. The researchers at MIT have modified a few genes and inserted a gene from another organism, to enable the microbe to store carbon as isobutanol, which can directly replace gasoline or can be blended with it. Apart from ambient carbon dioxide, the microbe can also make use of any source of carbon such as agricultural waste for the same results.

Unlike other researches on the same lines, here the team doesn’t have to kill the microbe to extract usable fuel, as it naturally expels the isobutanol into the surrounding fluid, from where it can be filtered an used. The research team is now optimizing a system which can increase the rate of production and also scale the process up to industrial levels.

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