Bacteria can live on biogas by-products

Researchers in Zurich have identified all the genes required by bacterium to use methanol – a common product of biogas plants – as a food source. It is hoped that the new insights will help scientists advance the use of bacteria in the field of biotechnology.

A common focus for chemists is determining how small carbon molecules such as methane and methanol can be used to generate larger molecules. This is a problem which bacteria solved long ago, with some using methanol as a carbon source to create energy carriers and cellular building materials.

The earth has an abundance of methane, which can be turned into methanol. In addition, large quantities of methane are produced during the fermentation of biomass in biogas plants. Harnessing this to produce bigger molecules that could be used in biotechnology, however, has remained a challenge.

Based at ETH Zurich, the team of scientists has identified all the genes in the bacteria Methylobacterium extorquens that allow it to live off methanol. Methylobacterium extorquens is already used in laboratories to produce complex molecules. The ETH Zurich scientists hope that their new results could help scientists manipulate the bacterium to create the desired molecules in greater quantities.

According to a statement from ETH Zurich: “Since all the genes relevant for methanol-based growth have now been identified, it may also be possible to introduce these genes into other microorganisms, allowing them to use methanol – and thus enable various biotechnical applications for this resource in the future.”


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