Skip to main content

Journal Club: Microbial Biosynthesis of Alkanes

I recently read an article titled  “Microbial Biosynthesis of Alkanes” that appeared Science (Vol. 329, 559, 2010) was published by Andreas Schirmer et. al. By comparing nine cyanobacteria known to produce hydrocarbons (alkanes, and alkenes) to one species known not to produce any hydrocarbons, genes that exist only exist in the 9 other species. The genes that were identified this way became likely candidates for the alkane biosynthesis pathway. Two classes of proteins were identified: short-chain dehydrogenases or reductases, and the ferritin-like or ribonucleotide reductase-like proteins. Previously, it was predicted that alkane biosynthesis happens by decarbonylation of fatty aldehydes. The authors speculated that the dehydrogenase-like gene could encode a protein that initiates the reduction of a fatty acid intermediate while the ribonucleotide reductase-like protein could complete the decarbonylation reaction.  The authors noted that the gene pair classes described above often occurred next to each other and therefore likely form an operon which are genes that are expressed together at the same time. To test the above hypothesis, the authors expressed operones described above in E. coli which is known not to produce alkanes. Putting these two genes into E. coli enabled the organism to now produce alkanes and alkenes.

The take-home message: Gasoline and other fossil-based fuels to a large part consist of alkanes and alkenes. Although researchers were speculating about how these hydrocarbons could be produced in living organisms, this paper for the first time clearly identifies two protein classes that can actually synthesize the reaction which could form the basis for a bio-based way of fungible (directly usable) biofuels.

I encourage everyone to read this from source directly here:

Popular posts from this blog

Focus on Algae - Part I: Bioremediation

After spending the last few blog posts on different aspects of dissimilatory bacteria, I want to switch the focus to a different class of organisms I have been interested in for a long time now. These are the algae. Algae comprise a large diversity of "sea weeds" and an even larger variety of single-celled organisms that mostly are capable of doing photosynthesis. They include the ordinary sea-weed, and make up a portion of the green slime found around the edges and the bottom of a pond. More exotic types of algae can live symbiotically - that is together with another organism in a mutually beneficial way. Lichens are an example of symbiotic relationship between algae and fungi. More information about the evolution and lineage of algae can be found in this wiki article.
Image via Wikipedia
Typically, these organisms are either not mentioned at all or only in conjunction with toxic algal blooms. But lately, algae, of course, have been in the news recently because of the promi…

Sustainable Living: One man's trash...

Since Earth Week is starting tomorrow, I wanted share with you some concrete ways of how individuals like you and me can make an impact on a wider scale. I then also wanted to use this example to challenge everyone to think creatively about the larger context.

So you know how the saying goes: "One man's trash is another one's treasure." Today, I want to talk to you about garbage. Plastic garbage specifically. Plastic is quite a wondrous material. Made from oil by man with just a few additives can turn this polymer into so many different sorts of plastics with so many different properties from thin and flimsy plastic bags, to the carpet on which I am standing, to this plastic bottle from which I am drinking.