PerspectiveChemical Synthesis

Microbes in a knight's armor

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Science  01 Jan 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6268, pp. 34
DOI: 10.1126/science.aad8593

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Demand for bioethanol, biofuels, and other biologically derived commodities is growing worldwide as efforts increase to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and limit climate change (1). Most commercial approaches rely on fermentations of organic matter that produce carbon dioxide (CO2). Microbes that produce such biocommodities from CO2 and molecular hydrogen (H2) offer an environmentally friendly alternative. However, the H2 required for this process is difficult to store and transport and also costs energy to produce. On page 74 of this issue, Sakimoto et al. (2) report a microbial process that avoids use of H2. They show how bacteria that normally grow on CO2 in the dark can be engineered such that they use solar energy to produce a useful chemical product.