Researchers have devised a method to create bacteria that can consume carbon dioxide to produce biomass. The method can be used for carbon-neutral production of various products as it utilizes carbon dioxide.
Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a heterotrophic bacterium— it cannot create its own food using photosynthesis. The bacteria is dependent on consuming organic molecules and sugars from the host to biosynthesize carbon. The mechanism is similar to humans.
But researchers in their study published in the journal Cell, titled ‘Conversion of Escherichia coli to Generate All Biomass Carbon from CO2’ have successfully transformed this heterotroph to an autotroph.
By altering the metabolic network and using adaptive evolution, E. coli was engineered to be able to make its own food by absorbing carbon dioxide, just like plants. The researchers were able to introduce Calvin cycle— light-independent reactions in photosynthesis, in the E. coli genome that is able to convert CO2 to biomass.
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While the bacteria can be used to reduce carbon emissions released on burning fossil fuels, researchers explained in their paper, “Another advantage is that it can be electrochemically produced from renewable sources and is seen as a promising path for carbon negative biomass formation.”
According to researchers, if the production processes utilizes renewable energy, it is also possible to get negative carbon emissions. The method can also be utilized to reprogram other heterotrophic organisms to become autotrophs. Biotech companies can use the method to transform yeast to produce CO2 instead of corn syrup.
Author of the study Shmuel Gleizer from the Weizmann Institute of Science mentioned in a statement to Fast Company, “The biotechnology industry has become very, very good at manipulating the genome of E. coli in order to optimize it as a production platform.”