Normally we don’t advocate self-destruction, but in the case of biofuel-producing bacteria, it might be a good thing. Researchers at Arizona State University have genetically engineered cyanobacteria that dissolve from the inside out, making it easy to access the high-energy fats and biofuel byproducts located within. The development could be tremendously beneficial for fuel production, since cyanobacteria are photosynthetic microbes (AKA pond scum) that have a higher yield potential than most biofuels currently being used.
The ASU researchers combined cyonabacteria material with genes from the bacteriaphage — a so-called “mortal enemy” of bacteria that cause it to explode — to create a new form of cyanobacteria that uses bacteriaphage-like enzymes to dissolve its membranes from within. Previously, scientists had to use a number of cost-intensive steps to access the fats located inside cyanobacteria’s burrito-like protective membranes.
It will probably be a long time before we see biofuels created from the ASU system on the market, but eventually the process could lead to cheaper biofuels — all thanks to some lowly, self-destructive pond scum.