Normally, E. coli is nothing more than a pesky food-spoiling bacteria, and the bane of toddler-rearing mothers everywhere. Yet, Korean scientists have found a way to produce gasoline from the germ using the power of metabolic engineering. It's like turning poop into gold, kind of.
Gasoline, as we all know, is a money-making, war-causing and life-sustaining substance. Yet, its chemical composition is relatively simple, as it is composed entirely of hydrocarbons (or alkanes), additives and blending agents. Though scientists have successfully formulated long-chain alkanes in the past, which creates diesel fuel, they've had trouble creating the short-chain ones that are good for creating a gasoline-like substance.
Enter the genius Korean scientists from Daejon, South Korea, who used metabolic engineering to create fatty acid derivatives that are shorter than normal, allowing the biosynthesis of short-chain alkanes. Translation: E. coli produced gasoline for the very first time.
Not only did the process yield gasoline, but it also enabled researchers to produce fatty esters and alcohols with the addition of different enzymes. That means E. coli may go on to create vegetable oil, detergent and even cosmetics.
The current E. coli-to-gasoline transformation technique is still in the works and not ready to be unleashed on the world just yet, as it has only produced 580 mg of gas per liter. Refinements in concentration, productivity and overall performance are on the itinerary. For now, it's a great first step on the quest for renewable resources in our densely populated world.