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“Sleeping Beauty” in Bacteria A Key to Biofuel Production

Much of biotechnology research is going toward the development of biofuels. Most of which is focused on the production of ethanol, or the type of alcohol we all know and love. But as a fuel there are some issues with ethanol, making it somewhat incompatible with our current fuel infrastructure.

Fortunately, a very similar molecule called propanol has much more desirable qualities, and scientists from the University of Waterloo have been able to produce it from an organism. In particular E. coli, which doesn’t just cause spinach recalls but is actually the main test subject in microbiology. By adding some genes from other microbes, and manipulating genes it already had, they were able to get it synthesizing propanol.

A main contributing factor was enhancing a group of genes that isn’t often expressed inside the bacteria, called the sleeping beauty mutase operon. (An operon is just a group of genes that are right next to each other inside a bacterial genome and are expressed together) Other work is necessary to make the production of propanol significant for industrial use, but it’s all around good news. Until now it’s only been possible to create propanol through purely chemical processes that aren’t exactly environmentally friendly. And the chemical is used in applications other than fuel. So this bacterial breakthrough may make environmentally friendly propanol an ideal fuel source going into the future.

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