Biofuels researcher examines biofuel-producing microbes

Published on September 28th, 2009 | by Bryan Nelson

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Biofuel to be Made from Tuberculosis Bacteria

September 28th, 2009 by  

researcher examines biofuel-producing microbes

A team of researchers at MIT are engineering a strain of bacteria, which is similar to the type that causes tuberculosis, to produce biofuel.

The researchers say that the bacteria are useful because they are hungry for a number of sugars and toxic compounds and produce lipids that can be converted to biodiesel.

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The effort is part of a larger project at MIT to develop biofuels using synthetic biology. In this case, the focus is on soil-dwelling Rhodococcus bacteria, since they are well known to eat a variety of toxic compounds.

Of course, they are also well known due to their similarity to the tuberculosis bacteria. But unlike their deadly cousin, the strains being used to produce biofuel aren’t ones that are bad for you– unless you’re a toxin. In fact, researchers have already engineered strains that can feed on glycerol, a waste product of biodiesel production, and they’ve created one strain that can eat a mix of two types of glucose and xylose.

Now that the basic chemistry and biology has been worked out, the researchers are focused on achieving the highest possible yields, which they’ll be working on for two or three more years, according to the report.

Source: BioEnergySite

Image Credit: jurvetson on Flickr under a CC License 
 
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About the Author

has been making up for lost time since finishing his graduate degree in Philosophy by traveling and working to change the world. He has worked with groups like The Sierra Club, Environment America & U.S. PIRG, Environment Oregon & OSPIRG, and Progressive Future on local and national political campaigns. His environmental journalism can be found throughout the web, which also includes regular contributions to MNN.com. Between adventure and activism, he currently can be found doing freelance writing from his home in Hawaii.



  • Good article, I also wrote about this in his blog on the production of biodiesel from algae (blog in Russian). Regards from Ukraine, Alex.

    Our biodiesel is very popular.

  • Good article, I also wrote about this in his blog on the production of biodiesel from algae (blog in Russian). Regards from Ukraine, Alex.

    Our biodiesel is very popular.

  • Chuck Chandler

    You sound surprised, Cesar. Never let the facts get in the way of a good headline.

  • Chuck Chandler

    You sound surprised, Cesar. Never let the facts get in the way of a good headline.

  • When I read the headline (“Biofuel to be Made from Tuberculosis Bacteria”), I was almost sure that something was wrong: nobody would choose Mycobacterium tuberculosis (the causative agent of tuberculosis) for biofuel production. Tuberculosis bacteria grow extremely slowly and are dangerous pathogens whose handling requires especial laboratory procedures and equipment. Then I read the article and found out that you were actually referring to Rhodococcus bacteria. Bacteria of the Rhodococcus genus ARE NOT “tuberculosis bacteria”. Both Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Rhodococcus belong to the same phylum (Actinobacteria), so you could say perhaps that they are “closely related”. The headline is just untrue and misleading.

  • When I read the headline (“Biofuel to be Made from Tuberculosis Bacteria”), I was almost sure that something was wrong: nobody would choose Mycobacterium tuberculosis (the causative agent of tuberculosis) for biofuel production. Tuberculosis bacteria grow extremely slowly and are dangerous pathogens whose handling requires especial laboratory procedures and equipment. Then I read the article and found out that you were actually referring to Rhodococcus bacteria. Bacteria of the Rhodococcus genus ARE NOT “tuberculosis bacteria”. Both Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Rhodococcus belong to the same phylum (Actinobacteria), so you could say perhaps that they are “closely related”. The headline is just untrue and misleading.

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