Saturday, June 18, 2011

E. coli, the Endless Possibilities


From food poisoning to medicine and everything in between, these bacteria seem almost like the eighth wonder of the world. When it comes to Escherichia coli (E. coli), the sky is the limit. Known to many as the main cause of food poisoning, this bacterium is anything but a pestilence to most, at least to scientist or those interested in the race to find the answer to the current fuel crisis. With gas prices skyrocketing and the uncertainty of the economy, everything is worth a shot when it comes to lowering the cost of the biggest punch in the American’s wallet, gas. So why look at bacteria that are known to be ruthless? It’s easy, a new fuel source. According to Desmond Lun, an associate professor of computer science at Rutgers University-Camden, “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.” This has been relatively helpful to scientists over the past couple of years. With 60 plus years of knowledge it seems like a no brainer to study this microorganism. One of the basic functions of bacteria is to keep reproducing in order to survive. Bacteria are asexual, so in order to reproduce, bacteria undergo cell division, or binary fission. This means that bacteria clone themselves and in doing so share the same DNA as each other. Since bacteria do this, it is very easy to spawn millions of the same bacteria in just days, this is why looking to bacteria, or more specifically E. coli, to aid in the production of possible alternate fuel sources is of great interest to those who want to study it. This allows for a massive amount of biofuel to potentially be produced by a bacterium so well known, studied, and common. Now, why choose E. coli out of all the bacteria in the world? According to George Church at Harvard Medical School, “E. coli tolerated the genetic changes quite well…[it] grows fast, three times faster than yeast, 50 times faster than Mycoplasma, 100 times faster than most agricultural microbes...it can survive in detergents or gasoline that will kill lesser creatures, like us. It's fairly easily manipulated…[p]lus, E. coli can be turned into a microbial factory for almost anything that is presently manufactured but organic—from electrical conductors to fuel.” Why not invest money into something scientists can “play God” with? As 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." Shouldn’t we first give thought into a potentially remarkable fuel source like E. coli or even bacteria first instead of competing with the current food supply? These types of bacteria grow anywhere conceivable and do not interfere with consumable products. For those who manage to get past its ruthless behavior and who are interested in studying this foul bacterium, nothing but good will be gained from it, and not just to those who study this alternative fuel source, but the world as well.



Sources:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=bacteria-transformed-into-biofuel-refineries

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100903104828.htm



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