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Ethanol Bacteria

October 7, 2008

A genetically engineered bacterium produces ethanol from cellulose.


Bacteria that can take the heat…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Most of the ethanol that’s added to gasoline is made from corn or sugar cane. But many scientists think cellulose, a tough material found in plants, makes a better feedstock. According to engineering professor Lee Lynd of Dartmouth College, processing cellulose could be easier and cheaper using bacteria known as thermophiles. He says thermophiles work at high temperatures, which means less need for expensive enzymes to break down the cellulose.

LEE LYND (Dartmouth):
So what we did was to genetically engineer for the first time a thermophilic microorganism to make only ethanol. The resulting strain produces ethanol essentially at theoretical yield. It reduces the amount of cellulase that has to be added by about two-and-a-half fold.

Lynd and his colleagues are now working on increasing the ethanol yield and adapting the bacteria to work in an industrial setting. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the science society.