A remarkable Israeli invention could pave the way toward carbon-neutral fuels.
Weizmann Institute of Science researchers have produced a genetically engineered bacteria that can live on carbon dioxide rather than sugar.
The extraordinary leap could lead to the low-emissions production of carbon for use in biofuels or food that would also help to remove excess CO₂ from the atmosphere, where it is helping to drive global warming.
Plants and ocean-living cyanobacteria perform photosynthesis, taking the energy from light to transform CO₂ into a form of organic carbon that can be used to build DNA, proteins and fats.
As these photosynthesisers can be difficult to moderate genetically, the Weizmann team, under Professor Ron Milo, took E. coli bacteria – more commonly associated with food poisoning – and spent 10 years weaning them off sugar and training them to “eat” carbon dioxide instead.
Through genetic engineering, they enabled the bacteria to convert CO₂ into organic carbon, substituting the energy of the sun – a vital ingredient in the photosynthesis process. Milo said: “Our findings are a significant milestone towards our goal of
efficient, green scientific applications.”
Meanwhile, in another potential breakthrough, Israeli researchers have used a small molecule to induce the self-destruction of pancreatic cancer cells in mice. The treatment reduced the number of cancer cells by as much as 90 percent a month after being administered.
The research – led by Prof Malka Cohen-Armon and her team at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine, in collaboration with Dr Talia Golan’s team at the Cancer Research Center at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan – holds “great potential for the development of a new effective therapy to treat this aggressive cancer in humans,” Tel Aviv University said in a statement.
The paper was published in the October issue of the journal Oncotarget, a peer-reviewed biomedical journal covering oncology research.