"The real costs involved in any biofuel production are harvesting the goodies and turning them into fuel," said Roy Curtiss, director of the Biodesign Institute's Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology and professor in the School of Life Sciences. "This whole system that we have developed is a means to a green recovery of materials not requiring energy dependent physical or chemical processes."
Curtiss is part of a large, multidisciplinary ASU team that has been focusing on optimizing photosynthetic microbes, called cyanobacteria, as a source of renewable biofuels. These microbes are easy to genetically manipulate and have a potentially higher yield than any plant crops currently being used as transportation fuels.
But, until now, harvesting the fats from the microbes required many cost-intensive processing steps. Cyanobacteria have a multi-layer, burrito-like, protective set of outer membranes that help the bacteria thrive in even harsh surroundings, creating the pond scum often found in backyard swimming pools.
To get the cyanobacteria to more easily release their precious, high fat cargo, Curtiss and postdoctoral researcher Xinyao Liu, placed a suite of genes into photosynthetic bacteria that were controlled by the simple addition of trace amounts of nickel to the growth media.
"Genetics is a very powerful tool," said Liu. "We have created a very flexible system that we can finely control."
The genes were taken from a mortal bacterial enemy, called a bacteriaphage, which infect the bacteria, eventually killing the microbes by causing them to burst like a balloon. The scientists swapped parts from bacteriaphages that infect E. coli and salmonella, simply added nickel to the growth media, where the inserted genes produced enzymes that slowly dissolved the cyanobacteria membranes from within (see figure 1).
This is the first case of using this specialized bacterial system and placing it in cyanobacteria to cause them to self-destruct. "This system is probably one of a kind," said Curtiss, who has filed a patent with Xinyao Liu on the technology. Curtiss has been a pioneer in developing new vaccines, now working on similar systems to develop a safe and effective pneumonia vaccine.
The project is a prime example of the multidisciplinary, collaborative spirit of ASU research. Other key contributors were School of Life Sciences professor Wim Vermaas, an expert on the genetic manipulation techniques of cyanobacteria, Robert Roberson, for help with transmission electron microscopy, Daniel Brune, who did mass spectrometer analyses of the lipid products, and many other colleagues in the ASU biofuel project team.
The project has also been the beneficiary of the state of Arizona's recent strategic investments to spur new innovation that may help foster future green and local industries. The state's abundant year-round sunshine and warm temperatures are ideally suited for growing cyanobacteria.
"This probably would never have gone anywhere if Science Foundation Arizona or BP had not funded the project," said Curtiss. The $5 million in funding was key to scaling up and recruiting new talent to work on the project, including paper first author Xinyao Liu, an expert in microbiology and genetics who had recently earned his Ph.D. from the prestigious Peking University in Beijing, China.
"Xinyao is unique," said Curtiss. "If he were a baseball player, he wouldn't be satisfied with anything less than a 1000 home runs in 10 years. Xinyao is always swinging for the fences. Now, we are moving forward with a number of new approaches to see how far we can push the envelope." The next phase of the research is being funded by a two-year, $5.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) led by researcher Wim Vermaas, Curtiss, Liu and others from the ASU biofuel team.
The results were published in the Dec. 7 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Joe Caspermeyer | EurekAlert!
‘Farming’ bacteria to boost growth in the oceans
24.10.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für marine Mikrobiologie
Calcium Induces Chronic Lung Infections
24.10.2016 | Universität Basel
Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion
Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.
In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
24.10.2016 | Earth Sciences
24.10.2016 | Life Sciences
24.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy