Unlike the popular correlation of E. coli with sickness and food poisoning, the malevolent bacteria may also be the key to the future of renewable energy, study suggests.
Desmond Lun of Rutgers University is apparently researching how to alter the genetic makeup of E. coli to produce bio diesel fuel derived from fatty acids.
"If we can engineer biological organisms to produce biodiesel fuels, we'll have a new way of storing and using energy," Lun said.
Creating renewable energy by making fuels, like making ethanol out of corn, has been a common practice in trying to achieve sustainability.
However, Lun said, "It's widely acknowledged that making fuel out of food sources is not very sustainable. It's too expensive and it competes with our food sources."
One alternative is to modify the E. coli microorganism to make it overproduce fatty acids, which are used to make bio diesel.
"Fatty acid molecules aren't that different from a lot of fuel molecules.
"Biodiesel is something that we can generate quite easily. E. coli has been used as a lab organism for more than 60 years and it's well-studied. We know a lot about its genetics and how to manipulate it. We've got to make quite drastic changes to do it and it requires major intervention," he said.
Lun has build computational models of the E. coli organisms to determine what would happen if changes were made. Those changes could include removing enzymes to enhance fatty acid production.
"We call it synthetic biology," he said. "It's sort of the next stage of genetic engineering. Instead of making small changes to specific genes, we're really modifying large sections of genome.
We're putting in entirely new traits rather than modifying existing traits."