Bio-engineering techniques are rapidly becoming a very powerful tool for scientists to make bacteria produce virtually anything. The latest invention comes from a Finnish research team, who modified E.coli bacteria in a way that they can generate propane.
The study appeared yesterday in Nature Communications, and describes how genetically altered bacteria can be turned into an unlimited renewable source of what is arguably the gas on the highest demand.
The team of scientists led by Pauli Kallio of University of Turku, Finland, used E.coli, one of the most common types of bacteria around, which previously has been quite heavily experimented on to generate biofuel. What the guys now managed to do is to turn the bacteria into a miniature propane gas-generating factory.
To do this, they inserted a synthetic pathway into the bacteria to make it generate enzymes, which allow the organisms to convert the naturally produced fatty acids into ready-to-use propane. To add a little note here, this gas, together with butane, has numerous uses in our day-to-day activities including cooking, heating, even powering vehicles.
The team is now looking into applying further modifications to the bacteria so that it can be made photosynthetic and produce propane from sun light.
This is a huge breakthrough, especially since the supplies of naturally occurring gas are not unlimited. Unfortunately, there is still a long way to go before this technique can be made viable, and ready to compete with fossil fuels.
In fact, it is questionable whether this technology will ever make it to the market. Chances are, it will be one of these great scientific discoveries that are just a little bit too expensive and just a little bit too far from being feasible.
In any case, nowadays, the most important task in front of everyone should be to bring emissions down to zero, and hope that some geo-engineer will come up with the ultimate solution to extraction of all excess CO2 and CO4 from the atmosphere. If not, then I wonder how much use we will be able to make of this renewable gas.
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