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Co-cultured Synechococcus and Shewanella Produce Hydrocarbons without Cellulosic Feedstock

Technology #20100084

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Matrix of Shewanella Bacteria on a Thin-latex Film Synechococcus Algae and Shewanella Bacteria Interact to Produce HydrocarbonsShewanella Bacteria
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Dr. Larry Wackett, Distinguished McKnight University Professor, Department of Biochemistry, BioTechnology Institute
With the push to develop renewable energy, Dr. Wackett has led the search for microbial enzymes that will synthesize fuels from biologically renewable sources. Because the most desirable components of petroleum are clean-burning hydrocarbons, Dr. Wackett is investigating the microbial biosynthesis of hydrocarbons from plant material through research funded by the Institute for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE) and a Discovery Grant for Biofuels from the University of Minnesota.
External Link (www.cbs.umn.edu)
Dr. Jeff Gralnick, Assistant Professor, Department of Microbiology, BioTechnology Institute
Dr. Gralnick has extensively studied the physiology of Shewanella, a species of gram-negative bacteria found throughout the world in aquatic environments. By understanding the molecular mechanism that enables this species to respire a diversity of compounds - including insoluble minerals - he hopes to engineer strains that can generate power in microbial fuel cells or react against certain toxic metals in the environment. Dr. Gralnick?s Research Group strives to integrate both classical and modern molecular approaches in their research to understand how bacteria influence our planet.
External Link (www.bti.umn.edu)
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Eric Hockert
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Long-chain Hydrocarbons from Synechococcus and Shewanella

A method to directly synthesize long-chain (C25-C31) hydrocarbons directly from sunlight, water, and CO2 using co-cultured microbes has been developed. These hydrocarbons may be further processed into vehicle fuels using traditional oil refining techniques. This process eliminates the costs and challenges associated with obtaining, transporting, and processing cellulosic feedstocks into vehicle fuels. One of the microbes is Synechococcus, a naturally occurring Cyanobacterium that takes sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water and creates carbon-based food molecules for the second culture. The second microbe is Shewanella, which converts the food into more complex hydrocarbons. The two organisms have evolved naturally as symbiotic co-cultures and do not require genetic engineering to be compatible.

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Optimizing Vehicle Fuel Precursors

The Shewanella bacteria naturally produce hydrocarbons but the University of Minnesota clarified the key protein responsible for fuel production, OleA and recently obtained the proteins's crystal structure. Based on this knowledge, experiments are currently in process to optimize fuel production through both metabolic engineering and optimization of OleA.

FEATURES AND BENEFITS OF USING SHEWANELLA AND SYNECHOCOCCUS TO PRODUCE VEHICLE FUEL PRECURSORS:

  • Synthesizes long-chain hydrocarbons directly from sunlight, water, and CO2, without cellulosic feedstock, using co-cultured microbes
  • Lower capital and operating expense.
  • Higher energy content in resulting vehicle fuels compared to ethanol
  • Minimal processing steps
  • Funded through an ARPA-E grant
  • Avoids reliance on large amounts of agricultural land and uses carbon dioxide as a feedstock