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Saturday, 21 February 2009

Climate special - the bacteria can be useful after all

Today:

  1. Synthetic e. coli could build a better biofuel: study
  2. Hot rocks: Africa's Rift Valley is geothermal gold mine
  3. Bacteria detoxify deadly seawater
  4. Plastic-Devouring Bacteria Could Keep Soda Bottles Out of Landfills

Synthetic e. coli could build a better biofuel: study

CHICAGO (AFP) – US researcher have engineered a synthetic version of the common e. coli bacteria that could help build a better biofuel, according to a study published Monday.

By altering the basic genetic structure of the bacteria, researchers were able to stimulate it to produce long-chain alcohols that are denser in energy than those found in nature.

Ethanol, one of the leading sources of biofuel, contains just two carbon atoms, and the most common naturally-produced long-chain alcohols contain no more than five carbon atoms.

But alcohols produced for the e. coli study by the University of California's Los Angeles lab contain up to eight carbon atoms, which means they pack a lot more energy.

These long-chain alcohols are also relatively easy to separate from water, making them ideal biofuels.

This is the first time researchers have been able to synthesize long-chain alcohol.

Liao's team did so by inserting chromosomes into the e. coli's DNA, which enabled it to overproduce a natural, elongated version of a compound that becomes an amino acid.

Two additional genes on the chromosomes encoded enzymes that converted the elongated compound to a six-carbon alcohol. source

My comment: As long as they don't let the little beast out, this sounds like a cool news. I mean, exploiting bacteria, what more do you want from life :)

Hot rocks: Africa's Rift Valley is geothermal gold mine

by Richard Ingham Richard Ingham Tue Dec 9, 1:39 pm ET

POZNAN, Poland (AFP) – Pilot drilling using new technology has revealed awesome potential for geothermal power in East Africa's Great Rift Valley, the UN talks on climate change heard here on Tuesday.

Engineers using new seismic tools to locate hot spots hit powerful veins of steam, warmed by heat from Earth's core, near the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, according to a press conference hosted by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

Several wells have been identified, most of them generating four to five megawatts of electricity, while one has a "bumper" capacity of eight megawatts, they said.

The geothermal potential from the Rift Valley is "at least 7,000 megawatts," providing a mighty contribution to the energy needs of 12 countries in East Africa, she said.

Under geothermal, superheated water from underground reservoir is drawn to the surface, where it can be harnessed for several uses according to the temperature.

The Valley is a gouge that extends from the Red Sea to Madagascar where massive tectonic energies are ripping crustal plates apart.

Kenya already has a geothermal plant, dating back a quarter of a century, that delivers around 115 megawatts, or just over a tenth of the country's electricity capacity. However, more power is urgently need to meet the needs of the country's fast-growing population, and electricity cuts are common, UNEP experts said.

The success of the pilot project could mean savings of as much as 75 million dollars for a new heat-capturing installation, he said. source

My comment: I'm not going to talk about the coolness of the news, because it's obvious. However, notice the place they are talking about. It's the Great Rift Valley- the very same place where man-kind started! Isn't this interesting coincidence? I think not.

Bacteria detoxify deadly seawater

(PhysOrg.com) -- Some marine bacteria produce hydrogen sulphide, which is toxic to animals. Scientists have now discovered that bacteria also protect marine animals from this toxic gas. A bacterial bloom detoxified a vast expanse of hydrogen sulphide-containing water off the coast of Namibia, before it could unfold its full deadly impact.

Hydrogen sulphide (H2S) is well known for its characteristic smell of rotten eggs. But hydrogen sulphide is not only smelly, it is also highly toxic. Humans can die within minutes when exposed to high concentrations of hydrogen sulphide. This foul-smelling gas threatens coastal fisheries, which account for 90 percent of global fish-catch.

Bacteria play a dubious role in the process - after all, they are responsible for the formation of deadly hydrogen sulphide gas. However, bacteria are also responsible for detoxifying hydrogen sulphide, as researchers from the German Max-Planck-Institute et al. now discovered. Their surprising results show that bacteria detoxified sulphidic coastal waters covering an area of approximately 7,000 km2 off Namibia - an area almost three times the size of Luxembourg.

The scientists investigated the occurrence of sulphidic water masses along the coast of West Africa. In January 2004, they hit upon a sulphidic water mass covering 7,000 km2 of coastal seafloor. The surface waters, however, were well oxygenated. In the presence of oxygen, sulphide is oxidized and transformed into nontoxic forms of sulphur. Surprisingly, Lavik, Stührmann, Kuypers and their colleagues found an intermediate layer in the water column, which contained neither hydrogen sulphide nor oxygen.

"Obviously the layer was oxidized anaerobically - without oxygen", Torben Stührmann explains. "Many bacteria do not require oxygen for respiration and can use nitrate (NO3-) instead. And indeed - we found a water layer that contained both hydrogen sulphide and nitrate."

This water layer is the habitat of detoxifying microorganisms, which are closely related to bacteria known from hot vents and cold seeps in the deep ocean. By using nitrate, these bacteria transform sulphide into finely dispersed particles of sulphur that are nontoxic. Thus, the microorganisms create a buffer zone between the toxic deep water and the oxygenated surface waters, where fish and other marine animals live. source

My comment: So, good news and bad news all in one. The Nature took the time to place detoxifying bacteria on the way of pollution, but our satellites cannot monitor the pollution then. Oh, well. I find it particularly interesting how everything in Nature has its place. It's a very comforting thought.

Plastic-Devouring Bacteria Could Keep Soda Bottles Out of Landfills

Researchers have discovered new strains of Pseudomonas bacteria that feed on the PET plastic used in drink bottles, and turn it into a more valuable, biodegradable form of plastic. The discovery suggests a way to keep billions of pounds of discarded plastic out of landfills.

The researchers knew that heating PET plastic in the absence of oxygen produces a substance called terephthalic acid, which some bacteria feed on. They also know that other bacteria produce a high quality plastic called PHA that could have numerous applications in medicine–because PHA plastic is biodegradable. The researchers hoped to find a bacteria that fed on terephthalic acid and produced PHA plastic, so they collected soil bacteria from a bottle processing plant.

As reported in their paper, published in Environmental Science and Technology , after 48 hours they screened each culture for PHA. Three cultures, all similar to known strains of Pseudomonas, accumulated detectable quantities of the valuable plastic. The next step is to improve the efficiency of the process, says O’Connor. “A quarter to a third of each cell is filled with plastic – we want to increase that to 50 to 60%” [New Scientist]. source

My comment: Very very nice! I mean that's what a sustainable society should be about-living in perfect harmony with Nature. And again, notice how the bacteria found the plant on their own and they were there, only someone had to look for them.

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