The fight towards curbing global climate change may have found allies in some of the world’s smallest organisms. Algae, bacteria and fungi are all lending a helping flagellum to produce the biofuels of the future. Yes, the scum that grows in your bathtub may one day save the planet. So, who can we thank for filling our tanks and powering our homes?
Chlamydomonas reinhardtii- or to the layperson, “pond scum” is being harnessed to produce hydrogen for fuel cells. When the microscopic plants are deprived of sulfur and oxygen in their environments, they begin to produce hydrogen which in turn can be collected in a bio-reactor and utilized for the generation of electricity. For a full profile on this wonder-slime, visit Wired’s article, Algae: Power Plant of the Future? or take a gander at NOVA’s video on algae fuel.
E. coli- Who knew this pathogen was good for so much more than a case of food poisoning? This amazing bacteria’s DNA has been manipulated to secrete biodiesel as a waste product. Meet microbe engineer Jay Keasling, a scientist, bacteria-whisperer and entrepreneur, working on transforming these bacteria from creating the gas in your stomach to the gas in the tank of your car.
Gliocladium roseum– This little rainforest fungus stands out amongst its fellows in that it is able to produce a number of important fuel substances, including diesel compounds from cellulose (the sturdy cell walls of plants) and hydrocarbons. Its byproduct, dubbed “myco-diesel“, may be more efficient than many other biofuels because it does not require the extra step of fermentation in which the cellulose is broken down by a different set of enzymes or organisms. Instead, it cuts out the middle man and secretes the desired fuel directly.
From medicine to the combustion engine, we are just beginning to scratch the surface of the power of our little partners and what we as humans are able to engineer them to accomplish. Now that the discoveries have been made, more than microscopic changes must be made in our infrastructure to accommodate these new technologies. Regardless of how these shifts may occur, it is nice to know that from infinitesimal creatures can come great discoveries. Good things really do come in small packages.