Bacteria upcycle carbon waste into valuable chemicals
Synthetic biologists have engineered bacteria to convert carbon waste into valuable chemicals. The carbon-negative approach could contribute to a net-zero emissions economy. Credit: Justin Muir
Bacteria are known for breaking down lactose to make yogurt and sugar to make beer. Now researchers led by Northwestern University and LanzaTech have harnessed bacteria to break down waste carbon dioxide (CO2) to make valuable industrial chemicals.
In a new pilot study, the researchers selected, engineered and optimized a bacteria strain and then successfully demonstrated its ability to convert CO2 into acetone and isopropanol (IPA).
Not only does this new gas fermentation process remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, it also avoids using fossil fuels, which are typically needed to generate acetone and IPA. After performing life-cycle analysis, the team found the carbon-negative platform could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 160 percent as compared to conventional processes, if widely adopted.
The study was published on Feb. 21 in the journal Nature Biotechnology.
“The accelerating climate crisis, combined with rapid population growth, pose some of the most urgent challenges to humankind, all linked to the unabated release and accumulation of CO2 across the entire biosphere,” said Northwestern’s Michael Jewett, co-senior author of the study. “By harnessing our capacity to partner with biology to make what is needed, where and when it is needed, on a sustainable and renewable basis, we can begin to take advantage of the available CO2 to transform the bioeconomy.”