These bacteria produce a strange molecule that can be used to create jet fuel

  • Jawsamycin containing extract
Date:3 August 2022

There’s no denying the need for aircraft, but the petroleum-based fuels needed to power them are scarce.

Now, researchers have figured out how to develop an alternative jet fuel by harvesting a peculiar carbon molecule created by the metabolism of bacteria frequently found in soil. The study was conducted by researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and appeared in the journal Joule.

Jawsamycin containing extract

According to lead author Pablo Cruz-Morales, a microbiologist at DTU Biosustain, a division of the Technical University of Denmark, “In chemistry, everything that requires energy to build will release energy when it is broken.” A tremendous amount of energy is released when jet fuel made of petroleum is ignited. There must be a method to duplicate this, researchers at the Keasling Lab at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory reasoned, without needing to wait millions of years for fresh fossil fuels to emerge.

Explosive Concept

Jay Keasling, a chemical engineer at the University of California, Berkeley, approached Cruz-Morales, who was a postdoctoral researcher in his lab, to see if he could synthesis a difficult molecule that has the potential to produce a lot of energy. Cruz-Morales says, “Keasling told me it’s going to be an explosive concept.

Keasling sought to duplicate the jaw-like indentations of a molecule known as Jawsamycin, which received its name from the “Jaws” film. Cruz-Morales had previously experimented with an organism called streptomyces, a common bacteria.

The common bacteria streptomyces produces the compounds containing cyclopropane

Cruz-Morales asserts that “nature contains the recipe already.” As the bacteria consume glucose, their biological metabolism creates the angular molecule. He claims that when animals consume sugar or amino acids, they break them down and transform them into the components of carbon-to-carbon bonds. The chemical and mechanism by which you produce fat in your body are the same, but this bacterial process has some extremely intriguing twists.

These twists—which are made up of cyclopropane rings, which are rings made up of three carbon atoms stacked in a triangle shape—are what give the molecules their explosive capabilities. The carbons can be flexible and become at ease if they are in an open chain with bonds that are at a normal angle, according to Cruz-Morales. They can still move and dance a little bit if you make them into a ring of six carbons, for example. However, the triangle’s form causes the connections to flex, and creating that tension demands energy.

After rigorous examination, the research team concluded that polyketide synthases were the enzymes involved in the synthesis of these highly energetic cyclopropane molecules. According to Cruz-Morales, “polyketide synthases are the ultimate biological tool to synthesize organic chemistry.”

According to Cruz-Morales, the fuel created by the bacteria would function similarly to biodiesel. It would require special processing to enable ignition at temperatures lower than those required to burn fatty acids. But once lit, it would have enough force to launch a rocket into orbit. There are no justifications for producing this fuel using oil, according to Cruz-Morales, “if we can generate it with biological.” It provides the opportunity to make it sustainable.

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