back to article E. coli turns seaweed into ethanol

A group of scientists from Berkeley has used an engineered form of the E. coli bacterium to turn sugars in seaweed into ethanol. The breakthrough is attractive because if it could be commercialised, it would allow biofuels to be created without displacing crops or forests. According to the report published in Science, the …

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Pint

So lets get this straight

ecoli + seaweed= ethanol

ethanol + worms = wriggly longevity

hurrah happy worms

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Pint

Interestingly enough they appear to get something like the strength of a best bitter........

.............from this process.

"........a consolidated process, achieving a titer of 4.7% volume/volume...........". The link to the abstract is below, access to the paper requires payment.

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/335/6066/308

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Mushroom

So what happened?

Well the e-coli got out into the marine ecosystem and basically disgested all the seaweed it could find.

That sounds bad.

Yeah, that was bad enough, it reoved a valauble food source, killing off a lot of the larger fish and marine mammals.

But the smaller stuff survived right?

Well, no .. although the smaller stuff was nto dependent on seaweed directly, and was not attacked by the e-coli ... unfortunately it was unable to stand the high levels of water-borne ethanol ...

So the seas died.

Umm ...

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On the other hand, the seas would be a gigantic dirty martini. Add a few million olives and, hey presto, you can party like it's the end of the world.

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FAIL

Step 1: Harvest the seaweed.

Step 2: Apply E.coli

Is it just me or is the intelligence level of the Reg readership plummeting rapidly?

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Happy

Re: intelligence level of the Reg readership

We all got hold of some of that e-coli and one small enema later are guarenteed high-blood alcohol for the rest of our lives!

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WTF?

@Fibbles - Precisely

what the fuck is wrong with some people? A carbon-neutral save-the-planet fuel tech comes along and they have to prophesy doom anyway. It's like the _want_ the planet to be buggered and no amount of human ingenuity will convince them otherwise.

Is it some sort of Gaianist cult thing?

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Mushroom

errm

because whilst I believe in our ability to stop highly modified e-coli escaping out of a test tube and wrecking the place .. I do not believe we will do so well when the process is tried on an industrial scale.

Don't forget, they have had plastic-munching bacteria available for over a decade that could munch our polythene waste down no problem .. except no one think we would be able to convice them to only munch the stuff we no longer needed.

So sure, call me a doom-sayer ... but don't come crying to me when it all goes badly wrong.

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Joke

@LaeMing......And just think what a hit it will be with the younger managers in Japan........

............when out with their boss on one of those obligatory late evenings at the sushi bar. No more humungous bills because of having to keep him happy for hours with his favourite imported scotch. Just spike his first drink, keep him on the seaweed starter and he'll be happily legless all evening.

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i do assume that the seaweed would be harvested and fed to the e-coli at an onshore processing plant. Or is that too sensible in this day and age?

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Black Helicopters

turns *dead* seaweed into ethanol

I suspect the seaweed is mulched down first into nothing but a soup of smashed up dead cells.

I doubt the bacteria would have much success with living seaweed.

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Step 3 = PROFIT!!

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Step 3.

then wonder "where the fuck all the fish have gone".

Theres no such thing as a free sushi.

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Boffin

Harvesting is expensive

The problem with any harvesting process is that it usually consumes energy. This is what knackers most biofuel processes - the diesel used by the harvesting machinery emits so much carbon that the net saving to the planet is zilch.

The only way that a water-bourne biomass reactor process could work is if the plant matter can be persuaded to "flow" into the processing and reactor machinery. It would also be advantageous if the plant matter would not need much mechanical intervention before being brewed.

This kind of flow-through process means that there's a high chance that the waste would simply out-flow... into the sea. Better make sure the eColi will be thoroughly dead before opening the sluice-gates!

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Would it be too much to ask if we could get it to run on milfoil? Since we already do quite a bit of harvesting that stuff just to get rid of it, we might get a trifecta of cleaner lakes, biofuel and, if it isn't too much to ask, a tasty beverage.

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Paris Hilton

MILFOIL

now that just got me thinking...

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FAIL

Nuclear power plans have leakage of radioactive material. What do you think will happen to the runoff from the plant? How will they decide to treat the liquid left in the tanks (apart from taking off the ethanol)?

You don't need to be some crackpot Gaianist to try to look through the process, apply a little backward-looking logic and see that industrial processes for a lot of products have accidentally released stuff into the environment which had negative impacts.

Get a perspective check and stop being so bloody high-handed. Jeez!

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Boffin

Given that e. Coli, and bacteria in general are very good at horizontal gene transfer, and that the genes involved came from marine bacteria, it seems entirely that e. Coli could obtain the gene necessary to digest alginate naturally. The fact that e. Coli with this gene is not found in nature implies that it conveys no survival advantage, otherwise the seas would be full of alignate digesting bacteria.

Add to this the fact that seaweeds are members of teh plant kingdom, and have rigid cell walls which bacteria such as e. Coli have great difficulty in penetrating, precisely because they contain lots of things that would be otherwise very attractive to bacteria, I think you might have overstated the hazard somewhat.

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Boffin

@Andy Watt

You make a good point about what to do with the liquid left from fermentation. Might I suggest that this would make an ideal feedstock for organic fertilisers. Given that extraction of ethanol will necessarily be by distillation, you would end up with a large amount of cooked-down seaweed extract, which is generally considered to be a very good fertiliser and soil conditioner, due to the abundance of trace elements such as iodine.

Of course, allowing this to 'run-off' into the sea would probably cause exactly the same issues that we have from run-off of industrially produced fertilisers, such as algal bloom. The use of an organically bound fertiliser such as this on farmland might conceivably even reduce the runoff associated with traditional chemical fertilisers, particularly phosphates and nitrates.

I think maybe you overstate the problem of e Coli running off into the sea. We already pump lots of it into coastal waters in sewerage and it doesn't cause much of a problem. e. Coli can't survive for very long at salt concentrations above about 5% (the ocean is generally above 30% salt accoridng to Wikipedia). Bacterial run-off might cause a problem in fresh water. Again, I'd be more worried about bacteria in farm-run-offs such as slurry from cattle etc. These may cause problems, although usually the associated problems of over-fertilisation and eutrophication from the nitrates and phosphates in such run-off is a well known and larger problem.

So yes, there is something to say for 'getting a perspective check' and not 'being so bloody high-handed', but there is also a lot to be said for bothering to understand the science involved, and the relative risks, before going off on alarmist rants.

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Pirate

Biofuel be damned

It will be the vodka of the club circuit before you can say 'sea kale'

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Anonymous Coward

Kale ale

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Anonymous Coward

What percentage ABV does it reach?

Are we going to see seaweed vodka on the shelves?

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Thumb Up

Does this trick work on algae? Might solve some "algae bloom" problems.

Give folks an incentive to harvest it for biofuel, and clean up some waterways at the same time.

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Boffin

yes and no on algae

seaweed is algae .. so yes ..

however there are 7 distinct genera of seaweed with 100s of species, so I doubt the particular e.coli would work on all seaweed

the number of algal species is unknown, at least 10,000s , including Cyanobacteria, until recently considered an algae that is the cause of many "algae blooms" ..

unlikely this e.coli bacterium acts on Cyanobacteria "algae" ..

so probably no , or not effective on most other algal species

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Hmm, too bad, but thanks for the clarification. :)

n/p

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Anonymous Coward

So now you can power your car with poop or pee?

Does the fuel line run from the driver's seat to the engine?

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Ru
Facepalm

You have no idea what the article was about, do you?

Engineered bacterium can break down the principle sugar of which seaweed is formed. Are you seaweed? Does your digestive tract secrete kelp? Then you may be in luck.

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Anonymous Coward

You do know...

...that people eat seaweed for nutrition, right?

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Anonymous Coward

Life is so great through my rose coloured glasses!

Sure it may take a thousand years of solar energy hitting a rainforest of one acre size to capture the energy required to power my motor car for 2 minutes down the road but this sounds great! Lets just side step the small land masses and small visible forest surface areas and just harvest the worlds largest ecosystem, forget all the co-dependent life that needs it out there and that seaseed will only be produced and found in a small area of that and we can power say a few small cities for a few months then wonder why the ocean ecosystem is shorting out and discover how closely linked marine cycles affect the above water bio systems...

five stars groovy! lets do it!

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Facepalm

what? no seriously, what?

'Sure it may take a thousand years of solar energy hitting a rainforest of one acre size to capture the energy required to power my motor car for 2 minutes down the road.'

A rain forest gets about 438 kilowatt hours per square foot of sunlight - that's per foot, not per acre - and that's per year - not per millennium. Gasoline packs about 33.5 kilowatt hours per gallon. Whatever are you are driving?

I mean, really. Go on and tell us how to run the ecosystem, please do. Just don't let facts get in your way.

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Trollface

You are awarded the Worst Troll Of The Week award.

(so far, and it's only monday)

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Sir

OP - Surely you don't think they would rely on naturally occurring seaweed do you?

They would farm it you plankton.

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Anonymous Coward

I for one....

...welcome our soon to be; sea weed based, alcoholic, sludge monsters!

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Joke

The end of tounge twisters as we know them?

Would all this extra alcohol sloshing around in the sea mean this mean that:

She Shaw Shea Shells on the Shea Shore (hiccup)

??

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Ru
Headmaster

I'm sorry, I don't have a 'tounge'

I'm not sure how one would go about twisting one, either.

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Pint

Vibrio splendidus?

Sounds like an ancient Roman sex toy.

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Anonymous Coward

OK

So very rough calcs are: Area the size of Wales will produce well below 700 thousand barrels per day (bpd) BP oil stats give approx 1.6 million bpd for UK alone. Also what is the price per barrel of this stuff wrt energy returned on energy invested (EROEI)? 3% of the world's oceans for 60 Billion gallons, around 1.5 billion barrels per year, per day??? Humans consume 80+ mbpd oil consumption alone. If per year then 1/2 of the oceans will need to be used to produce approx 1/3 of the 'oil replacement'.

Me thinks best to look at Liquid Flouride Thorium - move away from carbon!

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Anonymous Coward

Area the size of Wales will produce well below 700 thousand barrels per day

looks like we'll have to flood Scotland too!

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Pint

I'm not sure providing the Welsh with that much alcoholic Lava Bread is a good idea.

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Anonymous Coward

Why are you talking AREA?

Surely you must talk VOLUME. Did you take into account how deep the seaweed can be - or assumed it is just what covers the surface area?

Not saying your stats are wrong - but I would redo with volume.

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Anonymous Coward

great research

much more useful than "why does toast land butter side down".

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Not sure I like this idea ...

So instead of getting the farts, I get drunk?

Epazote seems to stop the farts ... how do I control my own internal alcohol production if this bug makes it out into the wild?

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Tequila!

Ethanol, worms, salt... Job done!

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Anonymous Coward

I think we're all missing the main point here...

New Reg unit alert!

"They calculate that a commercial plant could produce 19,000 liters per hectare annually". What on earth is a liter Richard? Even Australians spell that one correctly! And how do you pronounce it? Sounds like "lighter"?

Proposed definition of the new unit:

1 liter = The volume of American (or cut-n-pasting Australian :-) that displaces 1kg mass of water when fully submerged for 10 mins? (NB. Potentially gratutous introduction of time dimension to unit definition.)

I'll get my coat. It's the grubby green coloUred one.

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Anonymous Coward

Speling

In an attempt to get there before anyone else does.... It should have been "gratuitous". Sorry for the unnecessary error.

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Headmaster

What on earth is a "gratutous", Mr. Coward? Or do you mean "gratuitous". If you're going to be a pendantic grammer / spelling nazi, at least get your own spelling right...

Oh, sorry, I forgot, it's Monday again. Never mind...

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Anonymous Coward

*cough* grammar *cough*

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Anonymous Coward

<AC clears throat politely>

Without wishing to pick too many nits, I think it's spelled "pedantic".

<AC clears throat politely>

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Pirate

Ah yes.

Muphry's* law in action.

* No, Not Murphy's.

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