Researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science have created a new type of bacteria that can effectively “eat” carbon dioxide. By using directional evolution in the lab, the team managed to get the bacteria out of their preferred sugar diet and turn to carbon dioxide in the surrounding air.
All life on Earth uses carbon to build biomass. Broadly speaking, there are two types of living things on Earth, depending on where they get their carbon. The most obvious example is plants, where self-nourishing organisms absorb carbon dioxide from the air and convert it into usable carbon. On the other hand, the source of the heterogenous organisms is food, which generates energy by breaking down oxidized organic matter, which includes all animals, fungi and most bacteria.
And now scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science report that they have dramatically changed the feeding of certain bacteria. “Our lab was the first to seek to change the feeding of common alien organisms (edible organic matter) to convert them into self-grown organisms,” said Ron Milo, lead researcher on the study. This may not sound possible at first, but it has touted a lot of lessons in the process, and in the end, we proved that we can do it. Our findings are an important milestone in achieving our goal of efficient, environmentally friendly scientific applications. “
First, the team genetically edited E. coli, adding certain genes that plants use to capture carbon in carbon dioxide, as well as genes that allow bacteria to derive energy from metastasis. The team then tried to force E. coli toward directional evolution by carefully manipulating the environment.
Bacteria consume only enough sugar, so they don’t “starve to death”, but can absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide and metastify. Evolutionary processes have shown that life has found a way to cope with such stress conditions, and that some bacteria soon use carbon dioxide as a source of food. Since this is sufficient, sugar is rare in this environment.
Over time, researchers have provided less and less sugar for the new bacteria. After about 200 days, some E. coli has been fully converted to carbon dioxide absorption. So what do these bacteria actually do? Currently, researchers can grow bacteria to produce things like antibiotics, graphene and fuel, but often “feed” large amounts of sugar in the form of corn syrup. The researchers say the new bacteria can absorb only carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and can use renewable electricity to provide energy that would essentially neutralise carbon for any end product and fuel.
The study was published in the journal CELL.