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E.coli bacteria that eats switchgrass to make fuel

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Researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) have engineered the first strains of e.coli bacteria that can digest switchgrass biomass and synthesize its sugars into gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. And all without having to add expensive enzyme additives.

The upshot? The cost of switchgrass-based biofuel could be greatly reduced and help it compete with fossil fuel-based transportation fuels. JBEI CEO Jay Keasling explained in a recent announcement the use of e.coli has allowed researchers to “reduce fuel production costs by consolidating two steps — depolymerizing cellulose and hemicellulose into sugars and fermenting the sugars into fuels — into a single step or one-pot operation.”

This research milestone, which was announced two weeks ago, comes at a time when switchgrass continues to gain credibility as a viable next-generation cellulosic feedstock. A new research review published today in GCB Bioenergy not only confirms the viability of switchgrass, but adds that it may have greater carbon emission fighting abilities than other alternatives.

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