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Engineered bacteria create high-energy biofuel

Altered microbes make an alcohol not produced naturally

Researchers have designed an entire molecular “assembly line” in bacterial cells that pieces together a kind of alcohol that isn’t normally made by known living organisms. This alcohol could serve as a biofuel that, unlike ethanol, has a high energy density and could be used in gasoline and jet fuel.

While the engineered bacteria are not yet efficient enough to produce biofuel on a commercial scale, the work shows that microbes can be designed to make chemicals that are beyond life’s natural repertoire, the researchers report online December 8 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Previous metabolic engineering work typically produces compounds that already exist in nature,” says coauthor James Liao, a biomolecular engineer at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Our work here aims to produce compounds that are not synthesized in nature.”

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