This genetically modified CO2-eating bacteria could tackle climate change, scientists say

New research published in the journal Cell claims that scientists have genetically engineered E Coli to consume CO2 rather than sugar, which they normally consume for their metabolism and could be used to produce sustainable food and fuel.

The team in Israel rewired it’s metabolism to consume CO2 rather than the usual organic compounds, much like plants by a simple addition of genes which metabolize CO2 and removing genes that depend on sugar, thanks to sophisticated gene editing tools that are available today.

First author of the study, Shmuel Gleizer, a postdoctoral fellow at the Weizmann Institute of Science wanted to see if such a thing is indeed possible, weaning E Coli away from sugars and getting them dependent on CO2 and also to understand the extent of genetic modification that’s needed to allow for such a transformation.

This is a major step in the field of synthetic biology which highlights the fact that bacterial metabolism is plastic in its nature.

Senior author Ron Milo, a systems biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science, wanted a framework which can be used to fix the amount of CO2, which could prove beneficial when addressing challenges like global warming – caused by the proliferation of CO2 in the atmosphere, sustainable production of food and fuel.

Making E Coli, a model organism used in such enterprises, derive their source of energy from inorganic CO2 rather than the organic Carbon present in sugars is a major step in that.

Teaching a bacterium new tricks that plants are known for is unprecedented, Milo Said.

This is an example of a directed evolution that endows the bacterium with certain traits not naturally inherent in them is a great feat, as there’s no precedent that this could ever work. Also the team was surprised that the end result could be achieved with only a small number of changes.

They added that currently, the bacteria emit more CO2 than they consume and hence the modalities have to worked out to increase the efficiency of it before it could be scaled up for industrial use.

The researchers aim to solve the problem of excessive CO2 release by supplying energy through electricity and to understand the milieu under which it can flourish.

Professor Milo also noted that this is a powerful technique that could be used to turn waste into fuel, food or other specific compounds that we fancy. They hope to improve these cellular factories that could enhance food production by increasing yields in agriculture as well.

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