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Powered by E. Coli

By adding genes from a variety sources — including other microorganisms and the camphor tree — researchers have coaxed Escherichia coli to produce diesel, Scientific American's David Biello reports.

As John Love from University of Exeter and his colleagues write in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they engineered E. coli to metabolize fatty acids into different hydrocarbons by inserting a Photorhabdus luminescens fatty acid reductase complex along with aldehyde decarbonylase from Nostoc punctiforme, a thioesterase from Cinnamomum camphora, and the branched-chain α-keto acid dehydrogenase complex and β-keto acyl-acyl carrier protein synthase III from Bacillus subtilis.

The E. coli were fed sugar and yeast extract and could produce diesel, which it appears to be able to expel from the cell through an unknown mechanism.

"We wanted to make biofuels that could be used directly with existing engines to completely replace fossil fuels," Love tells Biello. "Our next step will be to try to develop a bacterium that could be deployed industrially."