Researchers have shown that hydrocarbon chemicals found in soaps and ice creams can be used to make fuel for cars.
The researchers, led by Professor Nick Turner from The University of Manchester, used synthetic biology to hijack the naturally-existing fatty acids and direct those fatty molecules towards the production of ready-to-use fuel and household chemicals.
This development, discovered with colleagues at the University of Turku in Finland, could mean fuel for cars or household power supplies could be created from naturally-occurring fatty acids.
Hydrocarbon chemicals are everywhere in our daily lives; as fragrance in soap, thickener in shampoo and fuel in the car. Their number of carbons and whether they are acid, aldehyde, alcohol or alkane are important parameters that influence how toxic they are to biological organisms, the potential for fuel and their olfactory perception as aroma compounds.
The breakthrough allows researchers to further explore how to create renewable energy from sustainable sources, and the advance could lead to more innovative ways of sourcing fuel from natural resources.
Synthetic biology is an area of biological research and technology that combines science and engineering for the benefit of society. Significant advances have been made in this field in recent years.
"In our laboratories in Manchester we currently work with many different biocatalysts that catalyse a range of chemical reactions - the key is to match up the correct biocatalyst with the specific product you are trying to make," said Professor Turner.
"Biocatalysts recognise molecules in the way that a lock recognises a key - they have to fit perfectly together to work. Sometime we redesign the lock so that if can accept a slightly different key allowing us to make even more interesting products," he noted.
"In this example we need to make sure that the fatty acid starting materials would be a perfect match for the biocatalysts that we discovered and developed in our laboratories," he added.
The researchers published their work in PNAS.