Modified bacteria to replace oil derived products

Scientists at University College Cork (UCC) and the University of Kent, UK, have shown that simple bacteria can be manipulated and modified to produce biofuels and medicines and help reduce our over-reliance on oil derived products.

Prof Michael Prentice, UCC principal investigator, and  Dr Minghzi Liang, a researcher on the project

The research (funded by Science Foundation Ireland, and the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council) is published today (Friday, 23 April) in the academic journal, Molecular Cell.

 ''The way it works is that bacteria can be manipulated to construct internal pockets inside themselves that work as mini factories (bioreactors) where biofuels and medicines could be produced,'' says Professor Michael Prentice, professor of medical microbiology at UCC.

At present oil and oil derived products are used in manufacturing medicines and precursors for plastics and it is envisaged that the bacteria compartments could be modified for the synthesis of ethanol or even hydrogen gas which could reduce our need for oil derived products.

''Using these compartments, simple bacteria like E.coli can make chemicals that would normally be deadly for them. The bacteria are partially protected because the chemicals are being made within compartments inside their cells. We are working on ways to use these 'factories' to produce substances that will kill other harmful bacteria,'' says Professor Prentice.

Lead researcher at the University of Kent professor Martin Warren said, ''Synthetic biology is really exciting because we can produce some important and useful products that can be difficult and expensive to make using traditional chemistry techniques. Bacteria can make these things very easily and in large quantities if we develop bacteria with the right characteristics to do so efficiently.