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Synthetic biologists have engineered bacteria to convert carbon waste into valuable chemicals. The carbon-negative approach could contribute to a net-zero emissions economy. Credit: Justin Muir

biotech

Could this new biotech breakthrough help avert a climate catastrophe?

Scientists in America that have engineered bacteria capable of converting captured carbon dioxide (CO2) into valuable chemicals say it could completely “transform the bioeconomy”.

The researchers from Northwestern University and LanzaTech have demonstrated that the bacteria can convert CO2 into acetone, a solvent found in plastics and synthetic fibres; and isopropanol (IPA), needed to make many disinfectant and antiseptic products, including the WHO-recommended sanitiser formulas effective in killing COVID-19.

Northwestern’s Michael Jewett, co-senior author of the study, said: “By harnessing our capacity to partner with biology to make what is needed, where and when it is needed, on a sustainable and renewable basis, we can begin to take advantage of the available COto transform the bioeconomy.”

Turning CO2 into ‘chemicals for fuels, fabric and cosmetics’ like this is the type of innovation that can help bring a net-zero emissions economy a little bit closer.

“This discovery is a major step forward in avoiding a climate catastrophe,” said Jennifer Holmgren, LanzaTech CEO. “Today, most of our commodity chemicals are derived exclusively from new fossil resources such as oil, natural gas or coal. Acetone and IPA are two examples with a combined global market of $10 billion. The acetone and IPA pathways developed will accelerate the development of other new products by closing the carbon cycle for their use in multiple industries.”

The study was published today in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

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Written By

Iain is an experienced writer, journalist and lecturer, who held editorships with a number of business focussed publications before co-founding and becoming editor of Innovators Magazine. Iain is also the strategic director for OnePoint5Media.

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