Usually when we here about E. Coli, it's in the context of people getting sick after eating tainted food. Now a modified version of the bacteria could be part of the solution to getting beyond fossil fuels. UCLA scientist James Liao and the rest of his team have created a genetically modified version of the bacteria that consumes organic materials and produces alcohols with longer carbon chains. One of the reasons that ethanol gets relatively poor fuel economy compared to gasoline is that each ethanol molecule has only two carbon atoms, as opposed to the hydrocarbon molecules in gasoline which typically have seven or eight carbon atoms.

Butanol, which has four carbon atoms, has been seen as a better solution than ethanol. However, the E. Coli developed by Liao and his colleagues is capable of producing pentanol which has five carbon atoms. Having longer chain alcohols would reduce fuel consumption and allow them to be used in automotive and jet engines with little or no modification.

The modified E. Coli could also be used for producing polymers and drugs. Polymers would be important because the widespread use of plastics requires a lot of petroleum.


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