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Biotech Power

Self-Destructing Bacteria Create Better Biofuels 139

MikeChino writes "Researchers at Arizona State University have genetically engineered cyanobacteria to dissolve from the inside out, making it easy to access the high-energy fats and biofuel byproducts located within. To do this they combined the bacteria's genes with genes from the bacteriaphage — a so-called 'mortal enemy' of bacteria that cause it to explode. Cyanobacteria have a higher yield potential than most biofuels currently being used, and this new strain eliminates the need for costly and energy intensive processing steps."
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Self-Destructing Bacteria Create Better Biofuels

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  • by purpledinoz ( 573045 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @05:55AM (#30386204)
    Plants are the most efficient at collecting solar energy. Plants are the most efficient at storing energy as some form of hydrocarbon. We already have a huge infrastructure to distribute hydrocarbons. It's such a perfect fit. This hydrogen nonsense was a huge waste of money, and should have been invested in biofuels.
  • by mangu ( 126918 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @06:14AM (#30386292)

    Plants are the most efficient at collecting solar energy. Plants are the most efficient at storing energy as some form of hydrocarbon

    I agree with you in that, but I don't think cyanobacteria are the only solution for biofuels.

    Pond scum needs ponds, and ponds are filled with water. Granted, waste water can be used, these ponds can be part of a sewage treatment system.

    I think a future biofuel system will be a more diverse system. We will need bacteria in ponds, but also other plants, such as cactuses or other that grow in semi-desert areas, for instance. Or what about the oceans? Imagine biofuel made from kelp, three quarters of the surface area of Earth are available for that.

  • by Antique Geekmeister ( 740220 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @06:24AM (#30386342)

    Not according to this fellow, who won an Ig Nobel award for his work with bacteria from panda poop, who need to process quite a lot of cellulose in their diet. Hydrogen is the biofuel these bacteria produce. []

  • by Niedi ( 1335165 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @06:27AM (#30386358)
    As soon as even one or two bacteria manage to throw the phage-genes out again or, even simpler, acquire a loss-of-function mutation they'll have a huge advantage over the self-destructing ones and might eventually eliminate them. The result would be quite nasty for those who run the harvesting plant...

    I'd at least suggest seperated smaller tanks of bacteria that are isolated from one another so that the damage of such an event is kept at a minimum.
  • by jamesh ( 87723 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @06:49AM (#30386446)

    You are comparing turning the suns energy into electricity to turning the suns energy into hydrocarbons and then turning that into electricity, and you are discounting the other uses for the hydrocarbons.

    Taking carbon out of the air and cracking water into hydrogen and oxygen takes a whole lot of energy and the plants do it better than they can in the lab, when the only energy input is the sun.

  • by benjamindees ( 441808 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @08:24AM (#30386850) Homepage

    You've been reading Slashdot long enough to know that biofuels are carbon-neutral.

  • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Thursday December 10, 2009 @09:21AM (#30387186) Homepage Journal

    This coal burning nonesense was a huge waste of money and lives, we should have invested in unproven technology X.

    Uh, biofuels are a proven technology; Rudolph Diesel demonstrated his diesel engine at the world's far on peanut oil. Biofuel from algae has been demonstrated already.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 10, 2009 @09:34AM (#30387280)

    I work upstairs from the ASU cyanobacteria project, and it is meant to be scaleable for the type of semi arid regions that you describe for cactus. Since cyanobacteria have very little vitamin and mineral requirements, they can be grown in large transparent tubes in the Arizona desert, pumped only full of tapwater and air.

    Non-extremophile prokaryotic organisms, when given optimal growth conditions, will typically grow faster than most large eukaryotic plants, and in that lies the advantage of cyano over cactus, kelp, etc.

  • by OeLeWaPpErKe ( 412765 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @09:45AM (#30387380) Homepage

    *Ahem* the basic premise is wrong. Plants are NOT the most efficient at photosynthesis. In fact, plants, in the most narrow definition of the word, are incapable of photosynthesis.

    Plant cells do, however, contain a degenerate cyanobacter, there are a few different species but we call all of them "chloroplasts". Strictly speaking this part of plant cells is not actually plant in origin.

    Just like animal cells are not actually capable of digesting food, and using it to convert ADP into ATP. We do however contain degenerate cyanobacter that are capable of that feat, and who share their ATP with us. Strictly speaking, however, they are not "animal".

    Plant and animal cells are not, in the strict definition of the word, alive, since they do not really fulfill all of life's functions themselves. Specifically plants and animals both lack "inherent" digestive capacity. And without digestive capacity all other living activities would soon cease. Both families do have a symbiotic relationship with a more primitive lifeform that is alive. Plant and animal cells may be more alive than viruses, but they are not actually "fully" alive.

    Needless to say, the cyanobacter by itself is more efficient at photosynthesis than the entire plant cells. For starters, it captures a (much) greater portion of sunlight when not surrounded by a cell wall, and the food doesn't need to be shared with what is essentially a parasitic lifeform in this application. Normally the plant chloroplast relationship would be called symbiotic since the plant provides the chloroplasts with otherwise unavailable access to sunlight. However in this case it's direct human intervention that provides the access to sunlight.

  • Re:Wrong (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sjames ( 1099 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @11:33AM (#30388466) Homepage Journal

    It's all in how you look at it. If we deduct the energy needed to make more solar cells from the figure for PV, (since plants and bacteria use some of their energy for replication), photosynthesis looks pretty good.

  • by Serzen ( 675979 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @01:47PM (#30390972)
    Yes, they do in fact grow in saltwater. Ask anyone who keeps a marine aquarium about how hard the shit is to get rid of, too. If you're not careful, it can overtake your tank pretty quickly.

If you think nobody cares if you're alive, try missing a couple of car payments. -- Earl Wilson