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Fossil Fuel Alternative? E. Coli Bacteria Tricked Into Making Propane

LONDON — British and Finnish scientists have found a way of generating propane using E. coli bacteria — found in the human intestine — and say the finding could lead in five to 10 years to commercial production of an alternative to fossil fuel reserves. "Although we have only produced tiny amounts so far, the fuel we have produced is ready to be used in an engine straight away," said Patrik Jones of the department of life sciences at Imperial College London. Propane makes up the bulk of liquid petroleum gas (LPG), which fuels cars, central heating systems and camping stoves.

In a study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, Jones' team — from Imperial College London and Finland's University of Turku — interrupted the process that Escherichia coli, or E.coli, use to make cell membranes. Enzymes were used to channel fatty acids along a different biological pathway, so that the bacteria made engine-ready renewable propane instead of cell membranes. Jones said the level of propane was a thousand times less than needed for a commercial product, so his team working to refine their process.

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— Reuters