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A microscope image of the genetically modified bacterias shows a number of diesel molecules which it is forming.  (Source: CNN)

Biochemist Stephen del Cardayre is the vice president of research and development at LS9. He holds a vial of his company's prized bacteria. The brown fluid at the top of the vial is diesel that the bacteria excreted, mixed with water.  (Source: CNN)
Genetic engineering yields hope for fossil fuel replacement

DailyTech previously covered startup LS9 Inc.'s efforts to genetically engineer microbes to produce synthetic fuels.  After initial efforts to genetically modify both yeast and bacteria to produce long-chain hydrocarbons, they have since focused their efforts on a particular common bacterium -- E. Coli.

E. Coli is commonly found in feces, and the LS9 researchers have succeeded in a rather ironic goal -- genetically modifying the bacteria to excrete diesel fuel.  After much research and genetic modification, LS9 says it has used a variety of common sugar metabolic pathways to force E. Coli to convert virtually any sugar-containing substance in part to carbon chains virtually indistinguishable with diesel.

The bacteria "poop" out this black gold, while using part of the sugar to fuel their growth and reproduction as well.  The net result is that any carbon source can be turned into synthetic fuel by the economic bacteria. 

Biochemist Stephen del Cardayre, LS9 vice president of research and development, says his company has come a long way.  He states, "We started in my garage two years ago, and we're producing barrels today, so things are moving pretty quickly."

He explains the process of creating the microbes, stating, "So these are bacteria that have been engineered to produce oil.  They started off like regular lab bacteria that didn't produce oil, but we took genes from nature, we engineered them a bit [and] put them into this organism so that we can convert sugar to oil."

While the microbes are currently only producing diesel fuel, they could easily be tuned to produce gasoline or jet fuel according to Mr. Cardayre.  Best of all, the bacteria don't have to use simple sugars such as corn, a major criticism of the ethanol infrastructure.  The increased demand for corn by the ethanol industry is accused of raising food prices.  Instead they can use a variety of "foods" including sugar cane, landscaping waste, wheat straw, and wood chips.    The microbes used are a "friendly" noninfectious type of E. Coli that lack the proteins needed to invade the human body, which some strains of E. Coli are capable of doing.

Robert McCormick, principal engineer at the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Lab in Colorado remains skeptical of LS9's claims.  He adds, "Scalability is really the critical issue.  If you've got something that you can make work in a test tube, that's good, but you've got to be able to make it work on a very large scale to have an impact on our petroleum imports."

LS9 is not only confident they can scale the technology, but they also believe that their oil will be significant to the oil found in fossil fuel deposits.  Typical oil deposits contain significant amounts of sulfur that get released into the atmosphere, creating acid rain which destroys forests, limestone, marble, and damages lake ecosystems.  It also contains benzene, a carcinogen that can cause cancer even in very small quantities.

The E. Coli produced diesel has none of these unwanted extras, it's just pure black gold.  Unlike ethanol, it can be pumped along existing infrastructure, LS9 is quick to point out.

While they hope to be entering commercial level production in the next couple years, they acknowledge that even if they continue their path of unlikely and rapid success, their technology is not a magical solution to the global energy crisis.  Mr. Cardayre states, "I think that the answer to reducing our petroleum-import problem and reducing the carbon emissions from transportation is really threefold.  It involves replacement fuels like biofuels, it involves using much more efficient vehicles than we use today, and it involves driving less."

He says that LS9's success and continued prospects are only thanks to constant collaboration by a diverse team of experts from many different professions.  He continues, "The fun of the challenge from the science perspective is that you do have farmers and biologists and entomologists, and biochemists and chemical engineers, and process engineers and business people and investors all working to solve this, and it ranges anywhere from a political issue to a technical issue."

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LS9? GM will sue...
By wingless on 8/12/2008 9:22:33 PM , Rating: -1
GM should sue them for using the good name of a GASOLINE powered 6.2L V8 to market diesel. These guys better make that bacteria output high octane race fuel ASAP or else!

Also, finding ways to make more hydrocarbon gas doesn't help a damn thing. It's just the same old POLLUTION we're dealing with now. Now if they can make E.Coli eat garbage and output pure hydrogen then we have something. That's impossible since this biotech is simply converting chains of carbon into different types. Maybe they can get it to poop plastic. Plastic is where a lot of our beloved oil goes and its handy as hell.

Our civilization needs to stop burning hydrocarbons because thats the MAIN problem.

RE: LS9? GM will sue...
By masher2 on 8/12/2008 9:45:49 PM , Rating: 5
> "Also, finding ways to make more hydrocarbon gas doesn't help a damn thing"

You don't think stopping the flow of trillions of dollars overseas, much of it to unstable, dictatorial regimes is a "good thing"?

> "It's just the same old POLLUTION "

The average car of today puts out about 1/1000 the particulate pollution and 1/100 the the VOCs and NOx as a car from 40 years ago. Extrapolating forward, it doesn't seem that pollution is going to be much of a problem in the future.

> "Our civilization needs to stop burning hydrocarbons because thats the MAIN problem. "

Worse than war, starvation, AIDs, and cancer? Actually, burning hydrocarbons has led to the greatest advances in human health and standard of living mankind has ever seen. It's important to not forget that.

RE: LS9? GM will sue...
By Myg on 8/13/08, Rating: -1
RE: LS9? GM will sue...
By robinthakur on 8/13/2008 7:19:11 AM , Rating: 2
AIDS - Plastics for condoms, which makes it too easy to perpetuate the idea of sexual irresponsibility; Thus leading to AIDS getting to where it is today (more people would of been saved by a solid " not without a ring " comment then thinking that a peice of plastic for the profit of a company will save them; not to mention, more responsible ways of thinking combined with active detection stem the spread by keeping it within a small group, who would die without spreading it)

This is really stupid thinking. Condoms have saved ALOT of lives. How likely do you think it is to ban extra-marital or pre-marital sex? Kinda tricky me thinks, not to mention unrealistic. What about people who have no intention/are not legally able to get married? Should they just lead a life of permanent abstinence? I think "Be monogomous" would be a much better slogan.

Condoms are much more likely to work against the disease because we're not trying to impose or change a particular morality on the way people live their lives, we are just educating them that if you want to live a high risk lifestyle where you have sex with multiple partners then condoms make it more safe, though not entirely safe. If you want to live a life of sexual irresponsibility, you can do so whilst using condoms and you'll live a long life barring any unforseen accidents. Its purely your moral judgement that that's wrong. You might want to tell other hypocrites like Senator Edwards that also...and also remove all sexual references throughout worldwide pop-culture.

The 'not without a ring' comment is irrelevant to 90+% of people out there and would have had absolutely no impact on the spread of the disease. Air travel does have an effect on the spread of the disease however.

RE: LS9? GM will sue...
By Myg on 8/13/2008 1:54:48 PM , Rating: 2
So... teaching people to have sex stems the flow of AIDS?

Dont get that logic

RE: LS9? GM will sue...
By nafhan on 8/13/2008 8:17:41 AM , Rating: 2
There were problems with STD's before plastics were invented.
Here's a link to the large European syphilis outbreak in the 1400's:

RE: LS9? GM will sue...
By Myg on 8/13/2008 1:55:40 PM , Rating: 2
Of course there was always a problem, but there was always a solution too, and ignoring it isnt going to help.

RE: LS9? GM will sue...
By Targon on 8/13/2008 8:44:12 AM , Rating: 2
There are many people out there that take this sort of attitude, including the RIAA. You MUST stop the advancement of technology, just because change is a bad thing and people may use it for illegal/immoral purposes.

The idea that just because something can be used for illegal purposes does not mean that something WILL be used in that way. This is why guns, VCRs/DVRs, CD/DVD recorders, and so on are legal. Trying to say that by adding a new "cheap" way to provide an alternative to current supplies of fuel that it will lead to all sorts of negative things is wrong on many levels.

Every human on the planet has the potential for violent behavior, but that does not mean that every person will act in a violent manner. Just because the potential is there does not mean that it will happen.

If you look at the world, much of the fighting has been over "energy", and the desire to have an unlimited supply. This is why the places with an oil supply are so important to so many people. What happens if these oil supplies are no longer the only source of oil then? What if every country will be able to supply it's own oil? Wouldn't that mean that the need to even deal with the middle east would fade, eliminating the need for war due to oil in that part of the world?

For your other points, I don't fully understand your points. When it comes to AIDS, the problem is a bit more about sociology than about products made by oil. Before the birth control pill, pre-marital sex often lead to unwanted pregnancy. When birth control pills became available, this lead to the whole "free sex" craze of the late 1960s into early 1970s because sexually transmitted diseases just were not in the minds of people. Even then, it took until the late 1970s into the 1980s before sexually transmitted diseases were even thought about by young people. AIDS was the first disease to really scare people enough to change their behavior, so the use of the condom became a lot more popular. And even though things changed here in the USA, in third world countries where birth control is/was not easily accessable, the use of these things has been very low, leading to the AIDS problem being not just a concern, but a true epidemic. It has nothing to do with oil in that case, but about a sociological issue even when birth control is widely available.

Energy by itself is not an "evil" that causes problems, but when supplies are limited, it becomes something that people want, and because others know that it will be in demand may try to control the supply. By removing the limits on energy availability, it reduces one item that others may be envious of. If you are looking for a reason why energy causes fighting, you should look at the root issue, envy. Make something available to everyone in the world at an affordable price(to those who want it), and that eliminates one potential source of violence.

So, you are looking for trouble in the wrong place. At the heart of any problem, you will find that envy is the source of most problems, and this can lead to hostility.

RE: LS9? GM will sue...
By Myg on 8/13/2008 1:59:36 PM , Rating: 2
Was mainly a response to mashers comments of the following:

"Actually, burning hydrocarbons has led to the greatest advances in human health and standard of living mankind has ever seen. It's important to not forget that. "

But yes Targon, your right; it is more of a social issue then a petrolium one. I was hoping to expose a little insight into the side effects of this new fangled "standard of living" he was talking about.

RE: LS9? GM will sue...
By sgw2n5 on 8/12/2008 11:59:28 PM , Rating: 2
You do of course realize that all of that yard waste, agricultural waste, and other carbon/sugar rich materials will eventually decay back into CO2 anyway whether utilized as an energy source or not don't you?

Every mol of CO2 released into the atmosphere by combustion the diesel produced by the E. coli, a mol of CO2 was taken up and converted by plants into sugars, and the sugars were converted into hydrocarbons, then back to CO2 --> then the process starts over again when you burn it.

This is a far better solution than drilling for oil and then burning it (releasing CO2 into the atmosphere that had been previously locked into the ground). At least the CO2 emitted from this stuff came from the atmosphere relatively recently.

RE: LS9? GM will sue...
By wingless on 8/13/08, Rating: 0
RE: LS9? GM will sue...
By masher2 on 8/13/2008 12:38:04 AM , Rating: 5
> "A continuation of the accelerated CO2 emissions our civilization has produced "

You're still missing the point. This process is CO2 neutral; there is no "accelerated CO2 emissions". Whether a leaf decays naturally, or whether it is converted into diesel and then burnt, the emissions are unchanged.

> "Because we think like you, we doom ourselves"

Utterly untrue. From a geologic perspective, our atmosphere is currently CO2 impoverished. Throughout most of the Earth's history, levels were much higher, as much as 20 times higher than they are today. In fact, during the Cryogenian Period, CO2 levels were over 4000 ppm (they stand at 380 ppm today), yet the Earth was the coldest its been in all recorded history, with glaciers covering nearly the entire planet.

Every new report from the UN's IPCC scales down climate sensitivity to CO2 still further, and the most recent research indicates that the sensitivity is so low as to make any amount of warming essentially insignificant, if not even beneficial to mankind.

CO2 is airborne plant food, esential for all life on the planet. Even at the level we currently burn fossil fuels, nature still releases 30 times as much each year as we do. Commercial greenhouses artificially raise CO2 levels to increase plant growth...and research shows that increased CO2 in the atmosphere is already boosting plant growth, a fact which is not only good for both agriculture and the biosphere in general, but which acts as a negative feedback to eventually halt further CO2 increases.

RE: LS9? GM will sue...
By William Gaatjes on 8/13/2008 4:25:32 AM , Rating: 2
I have a question,

What will the rise of CO2 levels in the air do for the amount of sunlight that reaches the earth surface and the frequentiespectrum of that sunlight. It looks like massive amounts of CO2 in the air is good but as always the old saying goes :
Too much of anything is not good for you.

Yes, there where iceages before we got industrialized. That just shows there are more ways to Rome.

RE: LS9? GM will sue...
By ceefka on 8/13/2008 8:02:13 AM , Rating: 2
It sounds like you are referring to global dimming. That is caused by particles, not CO2, in the atmosphere creating a sort of shade though it is related to combustion of fuels.

RE: LS9? GM will sue...
By William Gaatjes on 8/13/2008 8:54:34 AM , Rating: 2
Well, i was thinking of particles. Energized ones to be exact. I wonder how high the CO2 comes and the upper layers respond to that. Does the CO2 get high enough and can it be energized and cause certain reactions ?
I am just interested, i don't really know much about it.

I am thinking of the troposhere, stratospere and higher.

RE: LS9? GM will sue...
By Solandri on 8/13/2008 1:19:42 AM , Rating: 5
Also, finding ways to make more hydrocarbon gas doesn't help a damn thing. It's just the same old POLLUTION we're dealing with now. Now if they can make E.Coli eat garbage and output pure hydrogen then we have something. That's impossible since this biotech is simply converting chains of carbon into different types. Maybe they can get it to poop plastic. Plastic is where a lot of our beloved oil goes and its handy as hell.

Our civilization needs to stop burning hydrocarbons because thats the MAIN problem.

Wow. Just... wow.

First, all of life depends on burning hydrocarbons. Your body takes sugars (which are hydrocrabons) that you eat, combines them with oxygen that you breathe, to "burn" the hydrogen off the hydrocarbons yielding (for the most part) water, CO2, and energy.

The wood you burn in the fireplace goes through the same process. Wood (cellulose) is basically just long chains of sugar glued together. When you burn it, it combines with oxygen in the air to yield (for the most part) water, CO2, and energy. There's a bit more other stuff created because the reaction is uncontrolled and at a higher temperature. And yes, wood is just sugar. The only reason you can't eat it is because your body can't break apart the long cellulose chains. Herbivores and termites have bacteria in their gut who break the cellulose into shorter sugars, which they can then digest.

Anyhow, if you process the cellulose, you get hydrocarbon fuels such as gasoline and diesel. Those fuels are packed full of energy because they originated as sugars in the form of cellulose. One way to process it is through temperature and pressure which makes the oil we find underground. The bacteria these guys have come up with are another way.

There is nothing wrong with burning hydrocarbons if they're created in a sustainable manner. The entirety of life on this planet depends on that very process. Hydrocarbons are just a chemical battery (a very efficient one at that) which plants use to store the energy they collect from sunlight. Pure hydrogen is a very difficult substance to work with. It's gaseous at room temperature and pressure, meaning it's very sparse - so it's difficult to get a lot of energy into a small space using it. It's a very small molecule so it leaks through lots of things that are otherwise airtight and watertight. And it rises in the air so any you lose through leakage is gone forever (it eventually escapes into space).

Life on earth has gotten around these problems by combining hydrogen with other elements which make it denser and more manageable, primarily sugars. Hydrocarbon fuels such as methane, gasoline, diesel, etc. are really not much different.

RE: LS9? GM will sue...
By William Gaatjes on 8/13/2008 4:42:45 AM , Rating: 2
More questions :

Why is hydrogen so popular in nature ?

If i google a little i find this :
It is abundant, but has it not something to do with the reactivity of the protium version ? It is very easy to use the energy from hydrogen. Carbon bonds are very durable and maybe even be the toughest element of all because of the configuration of the electrons in the orbitals.
Combined we have 1 very reactive element with 1 very stable element that can be switched on and off if you know how.
Life is fun :)

RE: LS9? GM will sue...
By Tech Go Green on 8/14/2008 4:22:37 AM , Rating: 2
You seem to be aware of the molecular implications... I have an issue to discuss with you.

I'm trying to conceptualize exactly how LS9 is managing to turn cellulose into diesel fuel. From what I found on their official site:

LS9 has developed a new means of efficiently converting fatty acid intermediates into petroleum replacement products via fermentation of renewable sugars. LS9 has also discovered and engineered a new class of enzymes and their associated genes to efficiently convert fatty acids into hydrocarbons.

Also from the website:

Starting from raw, natural sources of sugar such as sugar cane and cellulosic biomass , these renewable fuels will fundamentally change the biofuels landscape and set the stage for widespread product adoption and petroleum displacement.

There seems to be a discrepancy as far as the actual source of the fuel/hydrocarbon. Aren't fatty acids vastly vastly different from sugars? There seems to be fermentation involved... so they are converting some type of alcohol into a fatty acid intermediate? And then breaking that down? Sounds crazy. Cellulose as the starting material surprises me. It's a polysaccharide chock full of oxygen molecules -- even HELD TOGETHER by oxygen -- how in the world are they ending up with fatty acids and their long hydrocarbon chains???

RE: LS9? GM will sue...
By William Gaatjes on 8/14/2008 6:17:42 AM , Rating: 2
I am sure you where not asking me but i was interested in the answer to your question as well and thought i might as well post it. I am not a chemist, but when i google on fatty acids i found a lot of websites.

Now you have to verify this yourself but you can find some information from this selection.
I qoute:

Fatty acids are merely carboxylic acids with long hydrocarbon chains. The hydrocarbon chain length may vary from 10-30 carbons (most usual is 12-18).

I qoute :

Saturated fatty acids do not contain any double bonds or other functional groups along the chain. The term "saturated" refers to hydrogen, in that all carbons (apart from the carboxylic acid [-COOH] group) contain as many hydrogens as possible. In other words, the omega (?) end contains 3 hydrogens (CH3-), and each carbon within the chain contains 2 hydrogen atoms.

I woud say the hydrocarbons are stripped by some enzymes.
And next other enzymes build these hydrocarbons to the chemical shape we need. Just like a manufacturer process.

RE: LS9? GM will sue...
By William Gaatjes on 8/14/2008 6:22:39 AM , Rating: 2
And i found this...

I quote:

Novel fatty acids sugar esters for food and cosmetics Objectives Within the EC AIR research project AIR-CT94-2291 Production of sugar fatty acid esters from renewable agricultural resources: an integrated optimisation of enzymatic-purification processes and of surfactive properties, INPL developed an efficient enzymatic process for the synthesis of novel sugar esters based on the use of lipases. The carbohydrate surfactants, made of a hydrophilic sugar head group and a lipophilic fatty acid chain, constitute a novel family of non-ionic surfactants that can be used as detergents for washing purposes, as emulsifiers in food products and as active ingredients in personal care products such as shampoos, creams or soaps. Compared to chemically produced surfactants, enzymatically synthesised sugar esters show superiority in terms of product quality and purity, environmental compatibility and toxicological acceptability. Technical Approach The demonstration project aims at scaling up the enzymatic process for the production of the fatty acids sugar esters and to evaluate functional properties of the surfactants as food and cosmetic ingredients. First, the technical viability of the process based on the use of an immobilised lipase will be verified on sugar esters made from different sugars and fatty acids. Second, the physico-chemical and industrial properties of the sugar esters are to be evaluated in three selected application areas: cosmetics, bakery and ice cream. A major objective is to determine how these sugar esters compare with chemically synthesised surfactants, either alone or in combination. The production costs must also be established to further assess their market potential. Expected Results The production of kilogram quantities of sugar esters. In order to cover a wide range of HLB values (hydrophilic-lipophilic balance) of industrial interest, sugar esters will be produced, made from different sugars, fatty acids and vegetable oils. The evaluation of the physico-chemical characteristic, the biodegradability and the ecotoxicological properties of the sugar esters. The cost analysis of the new products as a function of composition and purity. The evaluation of the industrial properties of the sugar esters. It will first involve a general screening of the sugar esters as cosmetic, bakery and ice cream ingredients. For the most interesting of them, more extended evaluation of properties will be performed, using pilot plant production facilities and standard test procedures.

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