E Coli bacteria: strains developed in laboratories use carbon dioxide instead of organic compounds

Over the course of several months, researchers in Israel produced strains of E Coli bacteria. These use CO2 to generate energy instead of organic compounds. Such an achievement in synthetic biology underscores the incredible plasticity of bacterial metabolism. The study could also form the framework for future climate-neutral organic production.

E Coli bacteria as energy sources

e. coli use co2 as an energy source scientific study climate change

The living world is divided into autotrophs and heterotrophs. The former convert inorganic CO2 into biomass, while the latter consume organic compounds. Autotrophic organisms dominate the biomass on earth and provide much of our food and fuel. A better understanding of the principles of autotrophic growth and the methods for improving it is critical to the path to sustainability.

"Our main goal was to create a practical scientific platform to improve CO2 consumption. This can help address the challenges related to the sustainable production of food and fuels, as well as global warming from CO2 emissions". This is what the lead author Ron Milo, systems biologist at the Weizmann Institute for Science, says. "Converting the carbon of E. coli, the workhorse of biotechnology, from organic carbon to CO2 is an important step in building such a platform."

Scientists develop coli bacteria in the laboratory to consume co2

A major challenge in synthetic biology was to create synthetic autotropy in a heterotrophic model organism. Despite widespread interest in the storage of renewable energies and more sustainable food production, past efforts to develop industrially relevant heterotrophic model organisms to use CO2 as the sole carbon source have failed. Previous attempts to establish autocatalytic CO2 fixation in cycles in heterotrophs always required the addition of organic compounds with several carbon atoms in order to achieve stable growth.

New perspectives for sustainability

process of carbon dioxide consumption by coli bacteria

"From a fundamental scientific perspective, we wanted to find out whether such a fundamental change in the diet of bacteria, from the dependence on sugar to the synthesis of all their biomass from CO2, is possible". This is what the author Shmuel Gleizer, a post-doctoral student at the Weizmann Institute of Science, says. "We didn’t just want to test the feasibility of such a transformation in the laboratory. We should also know how extreme an adjustment is in terms of changes to the bacterial DNA blueprint."

In future work, researchers will try to supply energy through renewable electricity to address the problem of CO2 release. In this way, they can also determine whether ambient atmospheric conditions can support autotrophy. These mutations that are most relevant for autotrophic growth can then be narrowed down accordingly.

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