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Scientists have modified the genes of a certain type of bacterium to use it to fight climate change.
Escherichia coli [esh-uh–RIK-ee-uh KOH-lahy] (E. coli) is a kind of bacterium that is usually found in human and animal intestines. While some strains are usually associated with food poisoning, most types of this bacterium are not harmful to humans and are useful in creating biofuels. In a study published in the journal Biology Letters, scientists found that aside from its known benefits, E. coli bacteria can be altered to live off carbon dioxide (CO2) in a similar way that plants do.
The team wanted to find out whether modifying E. coli’s genetic makeup could possibly switch the bacteria’s sugar-based diet to a CO2-based one. The scientists added genes to an E. coli strain that enabled it to chemically process CO2. They also removed genes that are involved in processing sugar.
To test the effectiveness of the modifications, the scientists left the bacteria in the lab for 200 days without any sugar. After this period, they found that the bacteria survived.
Despite the finding, the scientists believe that more research is required for the modified bacteria to be useful in tackling climate change. Currently, the modified E. coli bacteria consume CO2 for their growth, but the amount of gas they release is greater than the amount they consume.
However, if this technique is developed well, the modified bacteria can have a lot of potential uses, according to Professor Francis Sargent of Newcastle University. Aside from being used to cut down CO2 emissions, bacteria may also be modified to produce important medical substances like insulin.