Engineering Bacteria to Make Biofuels

Researchers have re-engineered an anaerobic bacterium known as clostridia to prevent spore formation, a change that improves the bacteria's productivity in making biofuels.

The University of Delaware engineers demonstrated the feasibility of using clostridia (specifically, C. acetobutylicum) as an economically viable, industrial-scale producer of biorenewable fuels and chemicals. Their work could help lower the cost of biofuel production and reduce demand for petroleum-based fuels.

As the basis of one of the oldest industrial fermentation processes--acetone-butanol-ethanol (ABE) fermentation--clostridia are important industrial organisms. They have a unique ability to ferment a large spectrum of simple and complex renewable substrates, such as cellulose.

The formation of spores (metabolically less active structures resistant to harsh environments) hinders the use of advanced bioprocessing technologies such as continuous manufacturing. But it was assumed that spore formation by clostridia was necessary for production of biofuel precursors (the compounds used to produce the biofuels). The researchers demonstrated that this isn't the case. The technologies they developed prevent spore formation without hindering production.

The researchers will build on these results to develop economically competitive, biorenewable ways of producing chemicals and fuels that can ultimately replace existing processes and decrease our nation's dependence on foreign oil.

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