Colorado Team Looks to Turn E. Coli into Biofuel

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Can a non-pathogenic strain of E. coli be manipulated so that it would produce the compounds that make gasoline? A research team led by the University of Colorado-Boulder hopes to find out. Here are the details.

* The university reported on Tuesday that the U.S. Department of Energy has awarded the research team a grant of $9.2 million over five years in order to study the possibility of using modified E. coli bacteria to produce ethylene and isobutanol, two compounds that can be converted to gasoline.

* According to the Mayo Clinic, Escherichia coli, known as E. coli, is a bacteria that lives normally in the intestines of healthy people and animals. Most strains of the bacteria are harmless, though some can cause illness through contaminated water or food.

* The team will be searching among the bacteria's 4,000 genes for a small set that can be manipulated to change its behavior.

* The research team will be led by Ryan Gill, a fellow of CU-Boulder's Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute and am associate professor of chemical and biological engineering.

* According to Gill, the work won't be easy. "Microorganisms and their genomes are incredibly complex machines," Gill stated, adding that the team has no idea whether the results will come in one year or decades and at what cost.

* Gill stated that the biggest challenge will be in developing an efficient and inexpensive process that can compete with low-cost fossil fuels like oil.

* This is the first year that the DOE's Office of Biological and Environmental Research has awarded grants to projects of this kind. The research led by CU-Boulder was one of only seven projects awarded funding, the university reported.

* Gill was named inventor of the year by CU's Technology Transfer Office in 2011. In 2005, he won a National Science Foundation CAREER Award and the National Institutes of Health's K25 Career Development Award for genomics research and teaching, the university stated.

* The Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute, RASEI, is a collaboration between the University of Colorado-Boulder and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

* The mission of RASEI is to expedite solutions to transform energy by advancing renewable energy science, engineering and analysis through research, education and industry partnerships, the institute states.

* Joining Gill in his E. coli research will be Rob Knight, CU-Boulder associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry; Pin-Ching Maness, principal scientist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory; and Adam Arkin, the physical biosciences director at DOE's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

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