Scientists create bacteria that eat carbon dioxide, clean up the environment
Despite growing climate awareness, the emission of greenhouse gases is still rising - exponentially in many parts of the world. Carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels and industry rose by 1.6% to 36.2 gigatonnes in 2017. To curb this alarming problem, scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel have now genetically modified bacteria to eat carbon dioxide for energy!
The basic science of living creatures
There are two types of living creatures on earth: the autotrophs and the heterotrophs. The autotrophs create their own food from nonliving materials like carbon dioxide and light. This group includes all the plants.
The heterotrophs, on the other hand, include all the animals and some forms of bacterias like E. coli and helicobacters, which survive by eating up other organisms and organic compounds like fat, sugar and proteins.
The milestone: cutting down on sugars
Professor Ron Milo along with his fellow scientists used genetic modification and lab technology to create a strain of Escherichia coli (E. coli) that eats carbon dioxide for its survival.
E. coli generally consumes sugars and other organic compounds to grow.
Before the breakthrough, scientists had tried several procedures to change E. coli in a way that it would swap its sugar meals for carbon dioxide, but failed.
The researchers then cultured several generations of the modified E. coli. Each generation got minute quantities of sugar and 10% more carbon dioxide than the Earth’s atmosphere.
After about 200 days, the scientists found that they could give some of the bacteria zero sugar and a bunch of carbon dioxide to sustain life. By Day 350, these modified bacteria that thrived on carbon dioxide outgrew the sugar-eating bacteria.
Scope for improvement
The scientists later marvelled at the small number of genetic modification required to turn heterotrophic bacteria autotrophic.
The only limitation to this study, they said, was that while it was growing, the E. coli emitted more carbon dioxide than it consumed. But the scientists believe they can change even this in the future.
According to Professor Ron Milo, with the help of biotechnology, there are many heterotrophic organisms such as yeast or bacteria, that may be weaned off large amounts of corn syrup and induced to live on a diet of carbon dioxide.
Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health. For more information, please read our article on E. coli.
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Updated Date: Nov 29, 2019 16:14:03 IST
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