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Bacteria study could help the development of biofuels

Bacteria study could help the development of biofuels

Scientists have long been researching how bacteria can be used to make biofuel, and as demand increases for clean, renewable energy new research shows how they may be one step closer.

Bacteria study could help the development of biofuels

Last year Sir Richard Branson welcomed the first commercial flight powered partly by a new form of biofuel, and more recently Mazda revealed that it’s working with two Japanese universities to investigate the possibility of using biofuels in their vehicles. Bacteria is often at the centre of the biofuel development thanks to its unique structure.

Some types of bacteria are hardy organisms, being able to survive in oxygen-deprived environments and resisting antibiotics. Bacteria rarely live by themselves as single-celled organisms. Most instead grow in communities, leveraging the strength of numbers to form a biofilm with tissue-like properties similar to a scaffold that serves to fortify the community, making it up to 1,000 times more resistant to most antibiotics. However, each individual cell must extract electrons from food that are then transported along the cell’s membrane until they reach an oxygen molecule. The energy released during this metabolic process is used to sustain life.  New research from Washington University has revealed how some bacteria are able to pull in electrons source. The work from the laboratory of Arpita Bose, assistant professor of biology in Arts & Sciences, was published in a recent scientific journal mBio.

“The molecular underpinning of this process has been difficult to unravel until our work,” Bose said. “This is mostly due to the complex nature of the proteins involved in this process. But now, for the first time, we understand how phototrophic microbes can accept electrons from solid and soluble substances.” Dinesh Gupta, the first author on this new study said: “This study will aid in designing a bacterial platform where bacteria can feed on electricity and carbon dioxide to produce value-added compounds such as biofuels.”

Bose also hopes to use the research as a biological marker to identify other electricity-eating bacteria in the wild. The findings will help researchers to understand the importance of this functionality in metabolic evolution and microbial ecology.

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