Seaweed may be good for much more than just rolling your sushi in – researchers at Bio Architecture Lab and the University of Washington in Seattle have created a microbe capable of digesting seaweed and converting it into fuel.
BAL synthetic biologist Yasuo Yoshikuni and his team took E. coli and modified it to give it the ability to turn the sugars in an edible kelp called kombu into fuel, as detailed in Science.
The new E. coli, when mixed with water and kombu, created an ethanol solution at temperatures between 25 and 30 degrees, without requiring the use of additional energy.
Yoshikuni says the microbe could be useful for making molecules other than ethanol, such as isobutanol or even the precursors of plastics.
But it's unlikely to run rampant and devour the ocean's stores of seaweed, he says.
"E. coli loves the human gut, it doesn't like the ocean environment," he told Scientific American.
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