I, for one, welcome our new 21-amino-acid worm overlords. and their friends the gasoline-shitting bacteria.

Animal's genetic code redesigned

Just 20 amino acids are used in natural living organisms, assembled in different combinations to make the tens of thousands of different proteins needed to sustain life. But Sebastian Greiss and Jason Chin have re-engineered the nematode worm's gene-reading machinery to include a 21st amino acid, not found in nature.

At Scripps, researchers showed in a paper in PNAS how one of those three letter words could be re-assigned, so that cells would read it as an instruction to incorporate an unnatural amino acid, one not normally found in living organisms. But that was in the bacterium E. coli; until now, no one had succeeded in doing the same in a whole animal.

So far it is just a proof of principle - the artificial protein that is produced in every cell of the nematode worm's tiny body contains a fluorescent dye that glows cherry red under ultraviolet light. If the genetic trick failed, there would be no glow.

But Dr Chin says any artificial amino acid could be chosen to produce specific new properties. Dr de Bono suggests the approach could now be used to introduce into organisms designer proteins that could be controlled by light.

Metabolism in reverse: Making biofuels at full-throttle pace

Researchers unveiled a new method for rapidly converting simple glucose into biofuels and petrochemical substitutes. In a paper published online in Nature, Rice's team described how it reversed one of the most efficient of all metabolic pathways -- the beta oxidation cycle -- to engineer bacteria that produce biofuel at a breakneck pace.

On a cell-per-cell basis, the bacteria produced the butanol, a biofuel that can be substituted for gasoline in most engines, about 10 times faster than any previously reported organism. "That's really not even a fair comparison because the other organisms used an expensive, enriched feedstock, and we used the cheapest thing you can imagine, just glucose and mineral salts."

Gonzalez's team reversed the beta oxidation cycle by selectively manipulating about a dozen genes in E. coli. They also showed that selective manipulations of particular genes could be used to produce fatty acids of particular lengths, including long-chain molecules like stearic acid and palmitic acid, which have chains of more than a dozen carbon atoms.

"This is not a one-trick pony," Gonzalez said. "We can make many kinds of specialized molecules for many different markets. We can also do this in any organism. Some producers prefer to use industrial organisms other than E. coli, like algae or yeast. That's another advantage of using reverse-beta oxidation, because the pathway is present in almost every organism."

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4 Responses:

  1. fantasygoat says:

    Man, I love living in the future. Fossil fuels forever!

    • Colin says:

      Technically these are green fossil fuels! As unusual as it sounds, when the organisms produce the fuel they're sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere which is then released when the fuel is burned. It's effectively a carbon neutral process.

      • DFB says:

        The bogus part is that even carefully engineered biofuels will never be able to obtain more than about 15% efficiency, and haven't exceeded 5% yet. They also take lots of real estate for solar conversion. While the US government spends a lot of money on them, nobody is yet proposing anything more innovative for production than switchgrass, ethanol, and methane recovery, the first two of which are not carbon neutral because of their footprints for harvesting, fertilization, and other agricultural carbon sources, and they make food more expensive.

        Compare to the 65% efficiency claimed for Fischer-Tropsch synthesis of ordinary transportation fuels by windfuels.com using a ruthenium iron electrolysis anode and refinery-scale waste heat recycling. The Navy has been doing kerosene synthesis for jet fuel on aicraft carriers since the 1990s.

        This is going to be like solar and wind, I think, with the former getting all the press and research dollars while the grows exponentially in the free market while entrenched fossil fuel interests desperately try to stop it.

        • DFB says:

          "...research dollars while the latter grows exponentially in the free market as entrenched fossil fuel interests try to stop it." Sorry.