From Bacteria to Biofuel

A bus fueled by biodiesel
A bus fueled by biodiesel

We are constantly striving to define the world around us not only for the sake of control, but to also see if it can’t offer us more. Research is always being performed to create life saving medicines from rainforest plants, and animals are often used to develop life enhancing surgeries. Aside from the occasional new species found, we often feel that we understand much of our natural world. But sometimes the parts of nature that we thought we knew so well surprises us.

Recently, a team of scientists debunked a 44 year old assumption about energy synthesis in a bacteria known as cyanobacteria. While this hardly seems like news, what the scientific team, which was lead by Donald Bryant of Penn State and another professor from Montana State University, discovered was definitely worth our attention – not just because it proved 44 years of science wrong, but because the findings could create another outlet to the creation of biofuels.

As the demand for energy sources continues to rise with the world’s population, numerous companies and research centers have been striving to find and create new sustainable and renewable energy sources. While solar, wind, and geothermal powers are further being developed to provide affordable alternatives on a consumer level, fuel is still an energy form that researchers are struggling to replace on a grand scale.

While biofuels such as bioethanol and biodiesel are becoming more popular in use, they rely heavily on vegetable oil and fats or sugarcane and corn to be created. Currently, there simply aren’t enough resources to create as much biofuel as could be used. However, the research found proved that Cyanobacteria – formerly known as blue-green algae, which were once thought incapable of synthesizing energy, is actually capable of producing the enzymes 2-oxyglutarate decarboxylase and succinic semialdehyde dehydrogenase. Both of which complete the tricarboxylic acid, or TCA, cycle in the bacteria.

Essentially for scientists, this means that they now understand how the bacteria creates energy, and they now may be able to genetically engineer it to synthesize 1,3-butanediol. 1,3-butanediol is not only needed for the production of plastics, but also for that of biofuels.

By using biofuel instead of fossil fuels, we have the potential to ween ourselves from the gas crisis and heavy reliance on such fossil fuels that create much political conflict, wars, and economic depression. Biofuels synthesize by cyanobacteria would be much more green to manufacture, would be cheaper to produce, and would afford car owners with a cleaner way to use their vehicle. It would also be entirely sustainable.

It’s funny to think that in our attempt to save the planet we have relentlessly destroyed, we are now turning to its very micro inhabitants to pull us from the mess we created.

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