Scientists Engineer E. Coli to Make Propane
E. coli is an exceedingly common bacteria that lives in many places including your very own gut. It's also a favorite organism for synthetic biologists looking to engineer useful microbes. By inserting just a few genes in E. coli , scientists have found they can coax the bacterium into making ready-to-use propane .
You might know propane best as the gas that fires up your grill, but it powers a lot more than summer barbecues. Along with butane, propane also makes up liquid
A diagram of the pathway for making propane. Kallio et al, Nature Communication.
don't make propane naturally, but they do make fatty acids, which can be turned into
Eventually, the team hopes to make these bacteria also photosynthetic, so they can manufacture propane from solar energy-a miniature factory in a bacteria cell. That's an ambitious and still far-off goal, given that the amount of propane
can currently make is still about one thousandth of what would be commercially viable. (Fossil fuels are still cheap, for better or worse.) But this is a promising line of research-last year, researchers engineered
to also make diesel
-that could one day make our
Top image: Liqid petroleum gas tanks. Photo Africa / shutterstock