Investigators at the US Department of Energy (DOE)’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) announce the development of a new synthetic biology method for improving biodiesel fuel production from natural sources. This means producing biofuels from bacteria.
Unlike conventional diesel, which is extracted and processed from petroleum, biodiesel is a clean, green and renewable source of energy. It can be produced by genetically altered bacteria and microbes, but this mechanism is only as effective as the researchers design it.
This is why the new method developed at JBEI is so important. It could potentially open the way for the large-scale production of cheap biofuels. This would in turn allow car manufacturers, for example, to seriously consider this alternative as a potential replacement for gasoline-powered vehicles.
The technique was dubbed a dynamic sensor-regulator system (DSRS), and it works by detecting metabolic changes in the microorganisms used to produce the fatty acid-based fuels. It then acts on the genes that control this process, tweaking it so that its production is always kept at optimal levels.
“The DSRS is an amazing and powerful new tool, the first example of a synthetic system that can dynamically regulate a metabolic pathway for improving production of fatty acid-based fuels and chemicals while the microbes are in the bioreactor,” Jay Keasling explains.
The official, who was the leader of the new investigation, holds an appointment as the JBEI CEO, and is considered to be one of the world’s foremost experts on synthetic biology.
The work is detailed in a paper entitled “Design of a dynamic sensor-regulator system for production of FAbased chemicals and fuels,” which is published in the latest issue of the top scientific journal Nature Biotechnology.
“Microbial production of fuels and chemicals from fatty acids is a greener and sustainable alternative to chemical synthesis,” adds paper coauthor Fuzhong Zhang, who is based at the JBEI Fuels Synthesis Division. He is also the lead author of another related paper, published in Nature Biology.
“However, high productivities, titers and yields are essential for microbial production of these chemical products to be economically viable, particularly in the cases of biofuels and low-value bulk chemicals,” he goes on to say.
The JBEI team now plans to refine its approach even further, so that biodiesel production inside bioreactors can be increased even further.