Gasoline Producing Bacteria
A GTL Systems Biology Center is engineering new biofuel producing microbes. The Center, led by George Church of the Harvard Medical School and collaborators at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is providing very fast synthetic biology capabilities, enabling high throughput synthesis of DNAs and their assembly into candidate gene sets. These can be designed to rapidly encode altered or completely novel biochemical pathways. For example, fatty acids are normal cellular constituents that could, in principle, be converted to gasoline compatible fuels by removal of their terminal acidic group. Church and Stanford University plant geneticist Chris Somerville co-founded LS9 Inc. to develop better biofuel producing species. To this end, at the July 2007 Society for Industrial Microbiology (SIM) meeting, LS9 reported the generation of microbes with just these capabilities. A virtue of the fuels thus produced is that they are virtually sulfur free, as contrasted to petroleum recovered from geologic reserves. If this work could be extended to photosynthetic species, then sunlight could suffice as the only energy input for the production, a direction in which LS9 is expected to go.