New microorganism helps produce alternative fuels

Posted Jun 12, 2019 by Tim Sandle
Researchers have used genetically engineered algae that can grow three times faster than starch crops and used this to produce biofuel and biochemicals.
Chlamydomonas reinhardtii  genetically modified to show different colors.
Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, genetically modified to show different colors.
Beth Rasala, UC San Diego
With the project, the scientists, from the Pohang University of Science and Technology, developed a new form of artificial microorganism which can be used as a microbial platform to facilitate the biorefinery of brown macroalgae. This organism helps to accelerate the biochemical production rate.
Investment in alternative fuels is of importance in terms of reducing social dependent upon fossil fuels and to tackle global warming. Biorefinery technology is a technology that takes biomass as a feedstock and transforms this into energy and other beneficial by-products, with the accepted definition being: "Biorefining is the sustainable processing of biomass into a spectrum of marketable products and energy."
Biorefineries are an emergent technology and there are a hand fall of facilities worldwide. As an example, Canada's first Integrated Biorefinery, developed on anaerobic digestion technology by Himark Biogas, which is located in Alberta. One limitation with the expansion of the technology is with the types of biomass that can be used, which is limited. A common biomass is starch crops (like corn); however, these are easily consumed by microorganisms.
To seek improvements, the research group has developed a new microorganism (optimized by genetic engineering), which is a type of Vibrio bacterium named Vibrio sp. dhg. The research has shown how the organism stands as a promising microbial platform to help accelerate the biorefining of brown macroalgae, a starting material that can replace starch-crop biomass and deliver a more efficient process to produce ethanol (as a biofuel), 2,3-butanediol (as a raw material for plastics), and lycopene (a physiologically active substance). The bacterium can rapidly metabolize alginic acid in algae.
The research has been published in the journal Nature Communications. The research paper is titled "Vibrio sp. dhg as a platform for the biorefinery of brown macroalgae."