(ORDO NEWS) — Ordinary soil microbes are able to synthesize a unique organic compound “with teeth” that could become a highly efficient fuel of the future.
Fossil fuels oil, gas, coal enable cars to drive, planes to fly, and ships to cross oceans. However, its extraction, processing and use cause considerable harm to the environment.
One way to reduce this harm is to make the fuel more efficient, so that burning the same amount produces more energy.
Such fuel was found in ordinary soil bacteria – as well as enzymes with which it can be produced. This is described in an article published in Joule magazine.
“In chemistry, everything that requires energy to produce releases energy when it decays,” says Pablo Cruz-Morales, one of the authors of the new work.
That is why biologists have paid attention to the unusual molecules that some bacteria synthesize. We are talking about organic compounds that carry an additional “appendage” in the form of several triangular structures of cyclopropane – polycyclopropanated fatty acids.
Unlike rings with five or six carbon atoms (as in benzene), these three-membered rings are strained and require considerable effort to obtain. Because of this, they carry an exceptionally large amount of energy.
Such triangular structures of cyclopropane are very rare. By studying the known genomes of bacteria that produce such molecules, the scientists identified proteins that synthesize cyclopropane structures, enzymes from the polyketide synthase (PKS) family.
Streptomycetes, which receive josamycin ( jawsamycin ), have attracted particular attention , using it to fight fungi. Josamycin is named after the cult movie thriller Jaws, as it includes several triangular cycles resembling shark teeth, and all together – the jaw.
The authors managed to modify the PKC protein, increasing its productivity by more than 20 times and turning microbes into “living factories” of josamycin.
According to their estimates, such a fuel could be orders of magnitude more efficient than the existing one: its energy density reaches 50 megajoules per liter – more than any fuel used today, including rockets. But while scientists are busy scaling the process, trying to establish at least experimental production.
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