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Self-Destructing Bacteria Create Better Biofuels

samzenpus posted more than 4 years ago | from the kamikaze-gas dept.

Biotech 139

MikeChino writes "Researchers at Arizona State University have genetically engineered cyanobacteria to dissolve from the inside out, making it easy to access the high-energy fats and biofuel byproducts located within. To do this they combined the bacteria's genes with genes from the bacteriaphage — a so-called 'mortal enemy' of bacteria that cause it to explode. Cyanobacteria have a higher yield potential than most biofuels currently being used, and this new strain eliminates the need for costly and energy intensive processing steps."

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139 comments

5....4....3....2...1 (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30386180)

This message will self-

Death to the pond scum! (2, Funny)

Serious Simon (701084) | more than 4 years ago | (#30386188)

>poof<

Re:Death to the pond scum! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30387720)

The bacteria has been observed to scream, before detonating, "allahu akbar!".

Re:Death to the pond scum! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30389964)

The bacteria has been observed to scream, before detonating, "allahu akbar!".

LOL!

Biofuels are the future. (4, Interesting)

purpledinoz (573045) | more than 4 years ago | (#30386204)

Plants are the most efficient at collecting solar energy. Plants are the most efficient at storing energy as some form of hydrocarbon. We already have a huge infrastructure to distribute hydrocarbons. It's such a perfect fit. This hydrogen nonsense was a huge waste of money, and should have been invested in biofuels.

Re:Biofuels are the future. (4, Insightful)

jcr (53032) | more than 4 years ago | (#30386246)

Plants are the most efficient at collecting solar energy.

I'm not sure that's the case, but what plants are, is cheap.

-jcr

Re:Biofuels are the future. (4, Insightful)

TeXMaster (593524) | more than 4 years ago | (#30386262)

Plants are the most efficient at collecting solar energy.

I'm not sure that's the case, but what plants are, is cheap.

-jcr

Everything is cheap until everybody starts collecting it.

Re:Biofuels are the future. (3, Interesting)

OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) | more than 4 years ago | (#30387380)

*Ahem* the basic premise is wrong. Plants are NOT the most efficient at photosynthesis. In fact, plants, in the most narrow definition of the word, are incapable of photosynthesis.

Plant cells do, however, contain a degenerate cyanobacter, there are a few different species but we call all of them "chloroplasts". Strictly speaking this part of plant cells is not actually plant in origin.

Just like animal cells are not actually capable of digesting food, and using it to convert ADP into ATP. We do however contain degenerate cyanobacter that are capable of that feat, and who share their ATP with us. Strictly speaking, however, they are not "animal".

Plant and animal cells are not, in the strict definition of the word, alive, since they do not really fulfill all of life's functions themselves. Specifically plants and animals both lack "inherent" digestive capacity. And without digestive capacity all other living activities would soon cease. Both families do have a symbiotic relationship with a more primitive lifeform that is alive. Plant and animal cells may be more alive than viruses, but they are not actually "fully" alive.

Needless to say, the cyanobacter by itself is more efficient at photosynthesis than the entire plant cells. For starters, it captures a (much) greater portion of sunlight when not surrounded by a cell wall, and the food doesn't need to be shared with what is essentially a parasitic lifeform in this application. Normally the plant chloroplast relationship would be called symbiotic since the plant provides the chloroplasts with otherwise unavailable access to sunlight. However in this case it's direct human intervention that provides the access to sunlight.

Re:Biofuels are the future. (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30387978)

What are you smoking? *Ahem* the basic premise is wrong. In fact, plants, in the most narrow definition of the word, are totally fucking capable of photosynthesis. Unless you just made up a definition of a plant. You see, its because plant cells do contain a degenerate cyanobacter that we call a "chloroplast." Strictly speaking, this part of plant cells is not actually plant in origin, but then if we're speaking strictly, neither is the DNA in the plant cells or the cell membrane or the cell wall because, you see, all of these come from these really old bacteria and the plant just STOLE them! And called themselves living things! Ugh, it makes me sick. "Actually," it doesn't matter that chloroplasts, a long time ago, were fully alive. It's kind of like how it doesn't matter that you, a long time ago, were a small child with the promise of being a productive human being. Now, chloroplasts are part of plants and you are a piddling excuse of a man.

If you still don't believe me, consider: while chloroplasts were free-living cyanobacteria millions of years ago, they are now incapable of survival outside of the host cell; additionally, they cannot replicate without the host cell so they are "not actually 'fully' alive" either. Considering that a substantial portion of their DNA is also stored in the nucleus of the plant cell, one must really consider the chloroplast part of the host cell; that is why any biologist will say that chloroplasts are an organelle inside (some) plant cells. The same argument is applied to mitochondria: they are part of animal cells and thus, animal cells are alive. Trying to split the eukaryotic cells from mitochondria (or plant cells from chloroplasts) is like taking the creme filling out of a Twinkie; you can't because both parts are integral to the whole. Neither you nor your liver would survive very long without each other, and the same can be said for eukaryotic cells and mitochondria. (Obviously, this doesn't generalize to other organs as you are living proof that life can be sustained sans brain).

Needless to say, the cyanobacterium itself is not necessarily more efficient at photosynthesis than entire plant cells. For starters, all plant cell structures except for the chloroplasts are basically transparent so all the sunlight absorbed by plant leaves is absorbed in the chlorophyll that is only present in the cytochrome complexes in the chloroplasts. Additionally, plant leaves have other structures that control the environment inside the leaf and let the "cyanobacteria" work better; think of it as how "humans" work play WoW much better in air conditioning than hot sunlight. Normally, the plant-chloroplast relationship would be called symbiotic since the plant provides the chloroplast with otherwise unavailable access to sunlight. However, in this case it's direct human intervention that provides the access to sunlight. it obvious that the plant and chloroplast both benefit from their arrangement, but you are an idiot who styles himself a genius.

Also, can you please explain to me how it is "direct human intervention" that provides chloroplasts with sunlight? I didn't realize that we controlled the fucking sun...or is that because I one of the sheople manipulated by the secret cabal?

Re:Biofuels are the future. (2, Insightful)

tpjunkie (911544) | more than 4 years ago | (#30388456)

You basically beat me to what I was going to say, but I will also add that the OP neglected to mention that glycolysis, which certainly produces ATP, occurs in the cytoplasm of every animal and plant cell...how that would make them "not alive" I haven't the faintest idea.

Re:Biofuels are the future. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30388708)

That's gold, Jerry! Gold!

Re:Biofuels are the future. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30388624)

You are referring to:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endosymbiotic_theory

While what you say is true that these organelles are bacterial in origin, it seems widely accepted that they are now 'part' of the cell and not 'strictly speaking' foreign.

Re:Biofuels are the future. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30388750)

"Plant and animal cells are not, in the strict definition of the word, alive, since they do not really fulfill all of life's functions themselves. Specifically plants and animals both lack "inherent" digestive capacity. And without digestive capacity all other living activities would soon cease. Both families do have a symbiotic relationship with a more primitive lifeform that is alive. Plant and animal cells may be more alive than viruses, but they are not actually "fully" alive."

They are absolutely alive; only well optimized for their environment. Why bother developing "digestive" capabilities that break down or convert "Earth environmental" molecules to "food" when someone is going to feed you glucose 24/7. Similarly, take some fully "alive" cyanobacteria and place them in a cave. Without light, photosynthesis ceases and eventually "all other living activities would soon cease."

Re:Biofuels are the future. (1)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 4 years ago | (#30390140)

Yeah, no.
A plant is a plant, and that includes all of its parts.

I might as well say your post isn't a post because without those delicious digital bits it contains, it wouldn't be anything.

Re:Biofuels are the future. (1)

Peaker (72084) | more than 4 years ago | (#30386332)

Photosynthesis extracts a whole lot more of the sun's energy per square meter than our best solar panels..

Re:Biofuels are the future. (5, Insightful)

Marcika (1003625) | more than 4 years ago | (#30386390)

Photosynthesis extracts a whole lot more of the sun's energy per square meter than our best solar panels..

No it doesn't. Most plants only operate at 1-2% photosynthetic efficiency, the most efficient crops maybe at 7%, and the theoretical maximum is 11% [wikipedia.org] .

Compare that to solar cells which have 15-20%, in the laboratory even 40% efficiency. The advantage of photosynthesis is not efficiency, but price and resiliency, with the "cells" manufacturing themselves.

Re:Biofuels are the future. (4, Interesting)

jamesh (87723) | more than 4 years ago | (#30386446)

You are comparing turning the suns energy into electricity to turning the suns energy into hydrocarbons and then turning that into electricity, and you are discounting the other uses for the hydrocarbons.

Taking carbon out of the air and cracking water into hydrogen and oxygen takes a whole lot of energy and the plants do it better than they can in the lab, when the only energy input is the sun.

Re:Biofuels are the future. (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 4 years ago | (#30386578)

Taking carbon out of the air and cracking water into hydrogen and oxygen takes a whole lot of energy and the plants do it better than they can in the lab, when the only energy input is the sun.

Okay, that may be true, given your constraints. I think it also probably holds for carbon fixation from the atmosphere, by itself. But surely you're not claiming that a plant is more efficient at hydrogen production than a 25% efficient solar cell paired with a 50% efficient electrolysis process. So obviously we know how to do some parts of the process more efficiently already.

And atmospheric carbon fixation is something of a moot point when we have hundreds of years of reserves of carbon that we are already digging up out of the ground and expelling into the atmosphere as highly concentrated CO2. They will even pay you to take it.

Re:Biofuels are the future. (1)

tee-rav (1029032) | more than 4 years ago | (#30386816)

And atmospheric carbon fixation is something of a moot point when we have hundreds of years of reserves of carbon that we are already digging up out of the ground and expelling into the atmosphere as highly concentrated CO2. They will even pay you to take it.

Parent gets to the point. The advantages of plants are: plants provide a service that "They will even pay you" for: pulling waste CO2 out of the atmosphere; plants store solar energy; plants manufacture themselves*; waste oxygen from plants is an essential ingredient to animal life.

Disadvantages: plants are flammable when dry, some have potential to maim when knocked over, some taste icky, the larger ones can be navigation hazards, and many harbor undesirable organisms*.

*Some plants are specially engineered not to harbor undesirable organisms. However, these plants are also usually rendered unable to manufacture themselves.

Re:Biofuels are the future. (1)

Zpin (921535) | more than 4 years ago | (#30386582)

He's talking about efficiency of energy collection, not about a particular result.

Wrong (4, Informative)

Ignatius (6850) | more than 4 years ago | (#30387504)

No, the 11% max. figure is for just turning sun's energy into hydrocarbons. If you want to generate electricity out of it, like in a bio-mass power plant, the thermodynamic losses would be on top of that so the efficiency would be considerably lower.

Re:Wrong (2, Interesting)

sjames (1099) | more than 4 years ago | (#30388466)

It's all in how you look at it. If we deduct the energy needed to make more solar cells from the figure for PV, (since plants and bacteria use some of their energy for replication), photosynthesis looks pretty good.

Re:Biofuels are the future. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30387176)

I call bullshit. The record for solar cell efficiency is in the 40% range in a laboratory environment. Most "normal" cells barely reach 30% in the lab and few reach above 11% in real life.

Furthermore, the article you link to claims lower efficiency because the plants do not convert all energy to biomass, etc, etc.

Where are your numbers for solar cells? The ones that are expensive to produce, dispose of, that are limited by the exact same factors or reflection and atmospheric conditions.

The fact is solar energy sucks in general, and while I'm not sure going with plants is going to make it more efficient, at least it's cheaper and has less environmental impact.

This is why I hate so much of the "climate debate". People are so worried about imaginary global warming that they will jump on terrible schemes which will probably create more damaging pollution and fill our landfills with useless junk far before any reaching effects are made on our climate.

Re:Biofuels are the future. (2, Informative)

camperslo (704715) | more than 4 years ago | (#30388302)

No it doesn't. Most plants only operate at 1-2% photosynthetic efficiency, the most efficient crops maybe at 7%, and the theoretical maximum is 11% [wikipedia.org].

Compare that to solar cells which have 15-20%, in the laboratory even 40% efficiency. The advantage of photosynthesis is not efficiency, but price and resiliency, with the "cells" manufacturing themselves.

We should also look at the overall efficiency including the end use. Combustion to produce mechanical energy is going to be less efficient than for electricity to mechanical energy, but we also need to take into account the losses from electricity storage/retrieval. And there's the matter of losses related to weight differences. Regenerative braking can reduce those some, but heavy batteries are still quite a burden. Not taking manufacturing into account it would seem that both schemes are carbon neutral since the carbon taken from the air by the plants is given back during combustion.

Solar cell and battery production are both expensive, but solar cells may be better used to capture energy in a residential environment. I don't know if residential biofuel production could become viable.
Availability of land may be an issue for any type of solar energy capture, so it makes sense to look at using residential space too.

It seems that for many communities wastewater/sewage treatment is becoming very costly. I've had periods where I paid more for sewer fees than my combined electricity and natural gas costs. I would hope that some methods could be developed to get some biofuel, hydrogen or electricity out of the process of breaking the waste down into something environmentally friendly. Considering that the waste is contaminated with medications (not just pills dumped in the toilet, but what passes through people), it's probably better to be using sewer sludge for biofuel production than for food-crop fertilizer. I was concerned when I found out that a great deal of Los Angeles sludge goes to the central California valley area for use as fertilizer. Although I have read/heard that people are being discouraged from dumping extra medications down the toilet, I've never heard anything about the contamination from drugs people consume. I believe that the drug levels are significant. If meth users can get high from drinking the piss of other meth users, other drugs people take are likely to be present in significant amounts too.

Re:Biofuels are the future. (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30386994)

Plants are the most efficient at collecting solar energy.

I'm not sure that's the case, but what plants are, is cheap.

-jcr

Never sent roses, have you?

No wonder you never get laid.

Re:Biofuels are the future. (1)

BlackSnake112 (912158) | more than 4 years ago | (#30389122)

I did, and they were in her favorite color. I didn't know that black roses mean something different though...

Re:Biofuels are the future. (1)

Sandbags (964742) | more than 4 years ago | (#30389668)

Plants are cheap. Land is not, processing plant material is not, dealing with plant waste and contaminants (some harmful) that can't be part of the fuel is a problem, fertilizer has it;s own environmental issues, water cost more than gas, and would you really truse a fuel shortage due to a bad frost???

Also, this is the exact reason ethanol is bad, gallons per acre per year is about 1% of the total earth's needs if we choose to continue to eat.

Lets try something else:
How about a technology we've used since WWII that can make gas from wind and waste CO2 emissions for about $60 per barrel cost (about $3/gallon at the pumps)? www.dotyenergy.com. This is REAL, not vaporware. It's accepted simple chemisty, proven over 50 years of use, finally attacked and refined with modern improvements in heat exchangers, electrolizers, and more, plus being combined with wind energy (actually solving one of Wind's biggest issues, off-peak overproduction), and the enture process is carbon nuetral...

they could be buiolding plants now, bit since this is neither a biofuel, now solar or wind itself, it qualifies for no grants offered to get started. If you want to also learn about all the reasons all the alternative fuels won;t work, they have a great section of their site covering the science and costs of pretty much every presented option, and tons and tons of data about their own process.

fyi: I am not in any way affiliated with this firm, its investors, and am not compensated for my statements.

Re:Biofuels are the future. (3, Funny)

f3r (1653221) | more than 4 years ago | (#30386248)

Plants are the most efficient at collecting solar energy.

I would expect in the future some kind of battery cells which directly interface with a massive array of plant-emulating light absorbing complexes which produce a voltage from sunlight.

Though in the Wikipedia I see (see 'photosynthesis') that this process converts light into energy with an efficiency of 3-6%, while solar panels have 6-20%, I believe that it might reach a point where mass production of hybrid organo-metallic devices can be achieved

At the end we will have plants at home which instead of producing sugars, will have an electric plug. They part in the plant where electricity is produced will be called iPod.

Re:Biofuels are the future. (2)

digitalhermit (113459) | more than 4 years ago | (#30386758)

Your point, though I suspect facetious, is quite interesting. I also envision a future where we can harness biological resources to produce energy. The mammalian brain produces megawatts of power over its lifetime. Imagine if we could take advantage of that? In envision a future where hundreds, perhaps thousands, if not millions or biological entities are connected in vast grids to power the world of the future. We could feed these batteries just as we feed chickens and pigs today; namely, just recycle the used organic matter as feed to the living bio entities. It would be a complete closed system producing gigawatts of power.

Water is a scarce resource (3, Interesting)

mangu (126918) | more than 4 years ago | (#30386292)

Plants are the most efficient at collecting solar energy. Plants are the most efficient at storing energy as some form of hydrocarbon

I agree with you in that, but I don't think cyanobacteria are the only solution for biofuels.

Pond scum needs ponds, and ponds are filled with water. Granted, waste water can be used, these ponds can be part of a sewage treatment system.

I think a future biofuel system will be a more diverse system. We will need bacteria in ponds, but also other plants, such as cactuses or other that grow in semi-desert areas, for instance. Or what about the oceans? Imagine biofuel made from kelp, three quarters of the surface area of Earth are available for that.

Re:Water is a scarce resource (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30387280)

I work upstairs from the ASU cyanobacteria project, and it is meant to be scaleable for the type of semi arid regions that you describe for cactus. Since cyanobacteria have very little vitamin and mineral requirements, they can be grown in large transparent tubes in the Arizona desert, pumped only full of tapwater and air.

Non-extremophile prokaryotic organisms, when given optimal growth conditions, will typically grow faster than most large eukaryotic plants, and in that lies the advantage of cyano over cactus, kelp, etc.

Re:Water is a scarce resource (1)

Wonko the Sane (25252) | more than 4 years ago | (#30387310)

Do they grow in salt water? Because if they do there is plenty of desert land close enough to the ocean that we can pump as much water as we need.

Re:Water is a scarce resource (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30388218)

I hope not, because if they can grow in salt water with no external food requirements, we just turned the seven seas into a giant oilfield

Re:Water is a scarce resource (1)

Wonko the Sane (25252) | more than 4 years ago | (#30389572)

That's what all that ocean biomass is, basically.

This technology just makes it easier to convert into something useful for us.

Re:Water is a scarce resource (2, Interesting)

Serzen (675979) | more than 4 years ago | (#30390972)

Yes, they do in fact grow in saltwater. Ask anyone who keeps a marine aquarium about how hard the shit is to get rid of, too. If you're not careful, it can overtake your tank pretty quickly.

Re:Water is a scarce resource (1)

Penicillus (755795) | more than 4 years ago | (#30388330)

Actually, using cyanobacteria can get around the scarce resource problem, because cyanobacteria are among the most efficient micro-organisms at growing in hypersaline, warm ocean (and salt flat) environments. In freshwater pond environments, one sees a progression of algae from diatoms (early in the growing season when the water's cold) to green algae, to cyanobacteria. Many researchers attribute this progression to the microcrustaceans' eating preferences, literally spitting out the cyanobacteria until everything else is eaten.

Re:Water is a scarce resource (1)

Sandbags (964742) | more than 4 years ago | (#30389978)

Forget plants. Even at 10 times the lab yields, running 365 days a year, there simply isn't enough land. (lat along what to do with the biological wastes).

http://www.dotyenergy./ [www.dotyenergy.] Read everything they have. This is REAL technology that has been in use making Diesel and jetfuels since WWII. Modern improvements (over 60 approved aptents recently), combined with wind poewr, and design improvements for mass scale fuel manufacture make this work at about $60-80 per barrel depending on local markets (roughly $3 a gallon by the time it's blended and gets transported to your local gas station for sale, not bad at all).

A few acres, 20-30 wind turbines (mostly off-peak energy, and only needed a few hours of the day), and waste coal and CO2 sequestered from coal fire plants, as we can make 400 tonnes of liquid fuels per day. We'de need 3000 - 4000 of these plants to fuel the entire hemeshphre without drilling for another drop of oil. We have enough wind land area to power it. We have enough carbon to use. most of the water is recycled (and we could fuel it using non-drinkable sources, and output some of the recycled clean water and sell that too if it's needed without dramatic cost increases).

FYI: I an not an accosiate of doty energy, it;s investors, nor do I have a stake in the company, and am compensated in NO WAY for my comments.

Re:Biofuels are the future. (1, Insightful)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 4 years ago | (#30386336)

"This hydrogen nonsense was a huge waste of money, and should have been invested in biofuels."

This coal burning nonesense was a huge waste of money and lives [wikipedia.org] , we should have invested in unproven technology X.

Re:Biofuels are the future. (2, Interesting)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#30387186)

This coal burning nonesense was a huge waste of money and lives, we should have invested in unproven technology X.

Uh, biofuels are a proven technology; Rudolph Diesel demonstrated his diesel engine at the world's far on peanut oil. Biofuel from algae has been demonstrated already.

Re:Biofuels are the future. (3, Interesting)

Antique Geekmeister (740220) | more than 4 years ago | (#30386342)

Not according to this fellow, who won an Ig Nobel award for his work with bacteria from panda poop, who need to process quite a lot of cellulose in their diet. Hydrogen is the biofuel these bacteria produce.

http://mdn.mainichi.jp/mdnnews/news/20091124p2a00m0na009000c.html [mainichi.jp]

Re:Biofuels are the future. (1)

Aceticon (140883) | more than 4 years ago | (#30387304)

Thanks a lot for that!

Your mentioning of "panda poop" ready dovetailed nicely with me eating lunch while reading /.

Re:Biofuels are the future. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30386436)

This can lead to other problems, it's not like we have unlimited area to grow plants, so it's bio fuel vs. food vs. environmental damage...
Forests are burned down to get farm land, big farmers are using the fields that were formerly used by local people to grow food for themselves and their families, rising food prices etc. You get the picture ...

Re:Biofuels are the future. (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30386650)

Not necessarily. You can take non-arable land, such as a desert, add sewage waste and bacteria, and VIOLA! biofuel. Or unused coastline, add fast-growing kelp and a lot of sunlight, regular harvests, and, again VOILA! biofuel. Both examples do not detract from current land use, and the coastline kelp forests may attract wildlife. That is not saying that arable land might be used for biofuel production...unless you tightly regulate the production, this will eventually happen if the profit from the sale of biofuel exceeds profit from the sale of food (which I can see happening), but it also give nations that have little industry or resources, but a lot of coastline, a viable industry.

Re:Biofuels are the future. (1)

Alphathon (1634555) | more than 4 years ago | (#30386676)

Perfect fit eh? It may be easier to transition from oil based fuels to biofuels, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's better in the long run. There are two main reasons why oil based fuels are bad - poor sustainability and harmful emissions. While using biofuels solves the first problem it leaves the second. AFAIK biofuels (generally speaking) aren't as harmful as normal petrol (gasoline for the americans) but are about the same or maybe slightly better than diesel (with a slight efficiency hit). Hydrogen on the other hand has one emission - water. The problems with it at the moment is that we don't have the infrastructure for it and it is expensive to impliment. Also we don't currently have a clean way to produce hydrogen. However, if we solve these problems it is far better in the long run. Hence, it is not a waste of money to invest in hydrogen fuel development. Just because something is expensive to start doing doesn't mean it shouldn't be done. Now using electricity to power vehicles is a real waste of money, in its current form anyway. It really doesn't solve any problems in most areas. Emissions - most electricity is generated using fossil fuels, so it doesn't solve that problem. Plus the batteries contain a lot of nasties when they dies (and they will die eventually). Infrastructure - not only do we not have it in a useful form for vehicles (wouldn't be hard to do though), but it would be difficult to do efficiently - it takes hours to charge an electric car, so if you run out of juice you have to stop for a while. Sustainability - again, mostly generated from fossil fuels, so is just shifting the problem.

Re:Biofuels are the future. (1)

Afell001 (961697) | more than 4 years ago | (#30387432)

Ah, the kicker... Biodiesel is better for the environment than diesel or gasoline. For one, with petrodiesel and gasoline, there is always a certain amount of sulfur and other pollutants from the refinement process that gets into the atmosphere. With coal, it's not just sulfur, but you have other chemicals, such as uranium (more radioactivity is spread into the atmosphere by coal-burning plants than by all the nuclear power plants in the world). While hydrogen may be seen as a panacea: (1) our infrastucture and economy is not designed for it. The vehicles we have on the road today are not designed to run on hydrogen. We do not have a viable hydrogen distribution network. Hydrogen generation in our infrastructure, at present, is tied to a petrochemical process. Hydrogen is extremely volatile. While gasoline is combustible, hydrogen can explode in the mere presence of oxygen. All it takes is a significant enough leak and an ignition source and you will have an explosion. Not so much with gasoline or diesel. (2) If we turn to using solar, wind, or nuclear to source most of our electrical generation on the grid, we can get away from the need to burn coal or natural gas for electricity. Electrical power is less of a waste than using electrolysis to generate hydrogen from water and then distributing it to vehicles. We already have an electricity distribution network, and battery and super-capacitor technology is making leaps and bounds as more money and focus is being brought upon that research. Modern lithium-polymer batteries, where the market is headed now, are extremely recyclable, with a large percentage of the material actually being able to go back into use with new batteries. Super-capacitors can be charged in a matter of minutes, and there are lithium-polymer batteries on the market now that are able to attain a 90% charge in a fraction of the time it would take to charge to 100%. It would not be unreasonable to see an electric car with a nearly 1500 kilometer range with the next generation of silicon lithium batteries due to market in the next few years.

Re:Biofuels are the future. (0)

garyisabusyguy (732330) | more than 4 years ago | (#30386778)

Nope, gotta disagree with you there. The problem with any hydrocarbon is right there in the name, carbon. You burn that stuff and you got carbon dioxide, and the same global warming risk as oil or coal. That 'hydrogen nonsense' does a straight transition from hydrogen and oxygen to water, no carbon dioxide or any other nasty by products like NOX. Of course, the hydrogen has to come from somewhere and, imho will just be a 'portable' product of large nuclear and solar plants.

Re:Biofuels are the future. (2, Interesting)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 4 years ago | (#30386850)

You've been reading Slashdot long enough to know that biofuels are carbon-neutral.

Re:Biofuels are the future. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30387054)

Hmm not bad, but you've missed something vital. In fact, indirectly you've nit the nail on the head about what the nature of the energy crisis is. The FUEL itself is carbon neutral, but at present its manufacture is carbon intensive, ie. the farm machinery, processing and distribution. Until ALL that is powered in a carbon neutral fashion, your biofuel is not carbon neutral.

This is the big problem with corn ethanol - it is energy negative! It uses more energy as petrol than it produces as biofuel. So you cannot use corn ethanol to produce ethanol. Other forms of ethanol are energy positive, but you still use most of the ethanol you produce to power your ethanol production facilities.

And it still destroys the top-soil.

Re:Biofuels are the future. (1)

be951 (772934) | more than 4 years ago | (#30388552)

This is the big problem with corn ethanol - it is energy negative!

Probably not. [wikipedia.org] I suppose you could say it is open to debate, but the consensus seems to be for positive energy output with current methods. Also perhaps worth noting is that the parent commented on biofuels in general, whereas you focused in on one particular biofuel from a source that happens to be a bad idea pretty much all the way around. I can see the rationale for using surplus corn for ethanol if you have to use it (the surplus corn). But you're probably better off storing it until pricing/supply supports using it as some form of food or feed.

Better methods are coming along, though. Cellulosic ethanol seems promising since it can use non-food feedstock, including existing agricultural waste streams or switchgrass, kudzu or other fast-growing non-commercial plants. Biodiesel from jatropha or other non-food crops are still a possibility, especially where small scale production can work, but algae and pond scum have several advantages over plant crops, and there are companies working on commercial scale implementations now. There is also biodiesel from waste vegetable oil -- either processed, or just filtered and used as-is in slightly modded diesels. And then there is thermal deploymerization of agricultural waste into diesel/fuel oil, which has been going on commercially for a few years now.

Any or all of these can fit into our existing infrastructure, so as petroleum hydrocarbons become more expensive (and/or tech improves for the alternatives), they'll start to become players in the market.

Re:Biofuels are the future. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30390190)

How many starved baby ribs for a mile with your suv is ok ?

response storm (1)

f3r (1653221) | more than 4 years ago | (#30386210)

Prepare now for the storm of responses mentioning the bacteria jumping out of the fuel vessels and provoking a major global zombie outbreak!

Self Destruct from within... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30386212)

Mod Roy Curtiss and Xinyao Liu, +1 Scary.

Imagine getting ill with these things... (2, Funny)

jamyskis (958091) | more than 4 years ago | (#30386228)

Just imagine getting infected with bacteria of this kind:

"Good morning, Mr. Phelps. Your illness, should you decide to accept it, will be a nasty flu bug. This bacteria will self-destruct in ten seconds."

Re:Imagine getting ill with these things... (1)

WormholeFiend (674934) | more than 4 years ago | (#30388514)

Or infecting pigs with it... thereby making ham and bacon so much easier to harvest.

What's the worse that can happen? (2, Funny)

Antony-Kyre (807195) | more than 4 years ago | (#30386230)

Have we ever had exploding bacteria before?

Re:What's the worse that can happen? (2, Funny)

macraig (621737) | more than 4 years ago | (#30386270)

A huge 500-acre vat of this stuff will explode all at once, causing a rift in the time-space continuum that allows Species 8472 to emerge and exact retribution for bursting their cozy bubble.

Re:What's the worse that can happen? (1)

Archangel Michael (180766) | more than 4 years ago | (#30389254)

A huge 500-acre vat of this stuff will explode all at once, causing a rift in the time-space continuum that allows Species 8472 to emerge and exact retribution for bursting their cozy bubble.

Just as long as Seven-of-Nine shows up to fight them, I'd be okay with that.

Re:What's the worse that can happen? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30386312)

Just wait what happens when these genetically modified bacteria leaks to the environment.

Re:What's the worse that can happen? (1)

KDR_11k (778916) | more than 4 years ago | (#30386520)

They'll explode and die out? This strain doesn't sound like it can sustain itself.

Re:What's the worse that can happen? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30387526)

About sustaining ... you are right and there is more to it, which could hamper the whole idea. We embedded in those cyanobacteria a genetic perk which is detrimental to their survival. It goes right against their evolutionary pressure. This engineered specie is strongly inclined to spontaneously evolve toward switching it off quite soon. From time to time the facilities will have to be shut down, sterilized to kill strains escaped from this anomaly and restarted by seeding a new lot of self-destructing bacteria. Unless, of course, the mechanism has to be triggered with some sort of special and naturally non-occurring chemical or environmental signal.

Re:What's the worse that can happen? (3, Funny)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 4 years ago | (#30386380)

Have we ever had exploding bacteria before?

Yes, but they don't make a loud bang so most people didn't notice.

Re:What's the worse that can happen? (1)

sharkey (16670) | more than 4 years ago | (#30387318)

Yeah, it's not as impressive as feeding Alka-Seltzer to seagulls.

Re:What's the worse that can happen? (2, Insightful)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#30386524)

Yes, whenever a bacterium gets infected. Your cells explode if they get infected with a virus too.

Evolution, suckers.... (4, Interesting)

Niedi (1335165) | more than 4 years ago | (#30386358)

As soon as even one or two bacteria manage to throw the phage-genes out again or, even simpler, acquire a loss-of-function mutation they'll have a huge advantage over the self-destructing ones and might eventually eliminate them. The result would be quite nasty for those who run the harvesting plant...

I'd at least suggest seperated smaller tanks of bacteria that are isolated from one another so that the damage of such an event is kept at a minimum.

Re:Evolution, suckers.... (1)

mike2R (721965) | more than 4 years ago | (#30386730)

As soon as even one or two bacteria manage to throw the phage-genes out again or, even simpler, acquire a loss-of-function mutation they'll have a huge advantage over the self-destructing ones and might eventually eliminate them. The result would be quite nasty for those who run the harvesting plant...

I'd at least suggest seperated smaller tanks of bacteria that are isolated from one another so that the damage of such an event is kept at a minimum.

Does this make any sense at all? It sounds like complete bollocks but has been modded to +5 so I thought I'd ask.

Re:Evolution, suckers.... (4, Insightful)

Schiphol (1168667) | more than 4 years ago | (#30386794)

It makes some sense. The idea is that whenever you have a lot of bacteria reproducing, mutation rates being what they are, benefitial mutations will eventually appear. Something like this has been used to. Chemostats [wikipedia.org] , which are what these things will essentially be, have been used to test evolution experimentally in just this way.

Now, the flaw in Niedi's reasoning is that evolution is directed only be better differential reproduction. So, if bacteria reproduce before self-destruction, there will be no environmental pressure to select against this feature.

Re:Evolution, suckers.... (1)

Schiphol (1168667) | more than 4 years ago | (#30386804)

Let me see if I can make my post evolve to a less typoed version:

It makes some sense. The idea is that whenever you have a lot of bacteria reproducing, mutation rates being what they are, benefitial mutations will eventually appear. Chemostats [wikipedia.org] , which are what these reactors will essentially be, have been used to test evolution experimentally in just this way.

Now, the flaw in Niedi's reasoning is that evolution is directed only to better differential reproduction. So, if bacteria reproduce before self-destruction, there will be no environmental pressure to select against this feature.

Re:Evolution, suckers.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30386826)

Let me see if I can make my post evolve to a less typoed version:

Too late! It was already stupidly-designed.

Re:Evolution, suckers.... (1)

Niedi (1335165) | more than 4 years ago | (#30387518)

<quote>
Now, the flaw in Niedi's reasoning is that evolution is directed only to better differential reproduction. So, if bacteria reproduce before self-destruction, there will be no environmental pressure to select against this feature.</quote>

bacteria usually keep on deviding (reproducing) themselves for an extremely long time, so I suppose the self-destructing genes will lead to premature death -> less reproduction in total compared to "normal" bacteria

Re:Evolution, suckers.... (2, Informative)

lordmetroid (708723) | more than 4 years ago | (#30387862)

Bacteria is not isolated organisms, most bacteria can not be breed as a singleton. That is because most species of bacteria is a colony living organism and they communicate with each other through the substances that they release in the environment which can signal among other things the concentration of nutrients.

At low levels of nutrients they will stop reproducing hence when the solution is saturated of bio-fuel bacteria the self-destruction gene can be triggered and the fuel harvested. This way there ought to be no selective pressure to neutralise the self-destruction.

Re:Evolution, suckers.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30388862)

So, if bacteria reproduce before self-destruction, there will be no environmental pressure to select against this feature.

Very true; evolution is blind to everything but sexual fitness. Which is very sad for humanity / intelligence / /..

Re:Evolution, suckers.... (1)

greg_barton (5551) | more than 4 years ago | (#30390632)

So, if bacteria reproduce before self-destruction, there will be no environmental pressure to select against this feature.

Not so. Even if bacteria reproduce before self-destruction, if a bacteria that does not self destruct is more fit (even if the fact that it does not self destruct does not contribute to it's fitness) then the "don't self destruct" variant will become dominant.

Re:Evolution, suckers.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30387016)

If I were these guys, I would make sure that the killswitch is on their genome, and is activated by some sort of introduced molecule, the equivalent of a Tet On/Off system. Better yet: a sensor for the levels of extracellular oils! That way, there is no selection pressure beforehand for the loss of these genes.

Also, if things go to plan, you should have no bugs left in your vat at the end anyway... so there's no reason you can't completely sterilize each vat at the end and reintroduce with new, desirable bacteria.

However, I have no experience with the industrial side of microbiology and have no idea how much of a pain it might be to do these kinds of things large-scale.

Re:Evolution, suckers.... (1)

DieByWire (744043) | more than 4 years ago | (#30387330)

As soon as even one or two bacteria manage to throw the phage-genes out again or, even simpler, acquire a loss-of-function mutation they'll have a huge advantage over the self-destructing ones and might eventually eliminate them. The result would be quite nasty for those who run the harvesting plant...

The selective pressure to maintain such a mutation would be in the processing stage where they add the nickel to make them self destruct. You can avoid that by not returning any waste from the processing stage back into the growth tank.

Of course, it's possible that the bacteria without the mutation may out-reproduce the ones with the mutation in the growth tank, but then you'd just start with a fresh batch of your preferred strain.

Re:Evolution, suckers.... (1)

Niedi (1335165) | more than 4 years ago | (#30387826)

The Problem arises when you have a processing stage that runs continously and is not emptied, cleaned and refilled inbetween. You might get a culture in there that interfers with your fuel-harvesting.

And let's just hope that they will not out-reproduce them in the growth-tank, cleaning everything and starting a fresh culture can be a royal pain. Plus it takes some time (thaw them, wait till they recover from the freezing and start reproducing again, wait till you have a sufficient density) which means lost money.

And if some of these bacteria get into spaces that are harder to clean (tubes, sealings etc...) it will be a regular problem.

Re:Evolution, suckers.... (2, Informative)

sjames (1099) | more than 4 years ago | (#30388740)

There is a VERY strong evolutionary pressure against the mutants though, those colonies will be disinfected and re-seeded with the non-mutant form.

It won't be a problem for the same reason we don't have a big problem with yeasts and yogurt cultures mutating harmfully.

Re:Evolution, suckers.... (1)

Niedi (1335165) | more than 4 years ago | (#30390082)

Sorry, but no, just no.

While it IS true that there are mechanisms to reduce the mutation rate (which have nothing to do with disinfection or re-seeding), bacteria still mutate a lot.

Second, while it IS true that a mutation that actually gives you a new ability is more than just a bit rare and will take almost forever (new ability as in "specific and unlikely modifications in some not-really-necessary other metabolic pathway that will lead to the production of a substance that kills the guy eating the yogurt" or something) a loss of function is very VERY simple. In the extreme cases, just a change of one or two specific basepairs in the DNA is enough (e.g. premature stop codon).

let's say you have a mutation possibility of 10 to the power of -8 per basepair per cycle (estimated for bacteria) and a genome size of 12-15 to the power of 6 basepairs (Calothrix sp.) then on average you have a mutation on roughly every 100th devision.

Now say that you have a density of 2661093 cells/ml (vasconcelos 2001, water research volume 35), that would mean something like 26611 mutations per ml per devision-cycle. Whoops.

Most of the mutations change nothing due to redundancy in the genetic code, a few will lead to the loss of a function. This might also change nothing if this function is not needed. In the most extreme cases it means instant death to the mutated bacterium.

However, if some researcher equipped a bacterium with a protein that's harmful for it and all it needs to do to improve is break it, heck that's easy.

Just the same with us humans: Becoming superman (gain of function) is quite impossible, getting cancer (e.g. loss of function in cell-cycle/migration mecanisms) is easy as cake.

all of the above is just VERY much simplified, the main points are: mutations happen. a lot.
most of them do nothing
almost all of the others damage something, which might or might not be a problem, depending on whether you needed the damaged bit

so doing damage is easy and if you damage the (purely artificial) construct that some scientist put into you to eventually kill you, congratulations, you win.

This seems familiar... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30386696)

Does this story remind anyone else of the exploding terrans in Starcraft?

Thanks, clearer how it works now (2, Informative)

physburn (1095481) | more than 4 years ago | (#30386888)

I'd wondered from the first article, how can a bacteria grow and reproduce at the same time as dissolving. It doesn't of course, they need to add a trace of nickel to start the cells dissolving and releasing there fats. All very good. But 2 more years of research before it even gets close to testing for commercial purposes. Shame we can't get this sort of research done quicker, cheap energy is always something we need, I wonder what the final price and conversion efficiency will be?

---

Bioethanol [feeddistiller.com] Feed @ Feed Distiller [feeddistiller.com]

Human variant (2, Funny)

Alain Williams (2972) | more than 4 years ago | (#30387170)

Could we have a human variant of this please -- I would like to feed it to bankers so that the money contained inside them would come spewing out and available for the rest of us.

Re:Human variant (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30391148)

How about one that worked on fats cells?

It doesn't need to be 100% effective, but you could advertise it as the latest 'fat busting' solution.

I guess you'd first have to solve the obese fat-bomber terrorist problem. Wouldn't want the local Wal-mart [peopleofwalmart.com] to get flattened because someone double up a dose to get thin for the weekend.

BacteriOphage (3, Informative)

plasmidmap (1435389) | more than 4 years ago | (#30387612)

It's properly spelled bacteriophage [wikipedia.org] --which are viruses of bacteria. These viruses make bacteria 'explode' so that newly replicated virions are released into the environment.

Using viruses to produce things (1)

mysidia (191772) | more than 4 years ago | (#30387628)

This is something like using a computer virus to develop software.

Linux software. By having it infect Windows programs and cause them to self-destruct.

Leaving behind their rich amounts of data...

Three words (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30387724)

World of Goo

Am I the only one who has thought about it when reading the story? Breeding bacteria only to make 'em go boom...
Next step is trapping everyone in virtual reality and use our bodies as a mass server farm.

Self-Destructing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30390168)

I think it's "Self-Destroying". You destroy the Star Wars franchise with a bad Holiday Special, you don't destruct it.
Self-destroying bacteria self-destruct to make fuel.

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