Scientists Creating 'Extremophile' Super Bug to Make Fuel

Credit: AJC1 via Flickr.

What's more extreme than an extremophile? How about a new and improved version of the bug, a bacteria that thrives in extreme environments like the hot springs of Vulcano Island, Italy? Researchers at North Carolina State and the University of Georgia are working to create their own version of the extremophile, mixing in features of three to five other bugs, in an attempt to make a critter that creates fuels like butanol or ethanol. Hopefully, this new super bug won't be super problematic. Creatures created by science come with concerns.

According to Forbes.com, the North Carolina-Georgia project will start with a bug based on an archaea, or bacteria, called pyrococcus furiosus, first discovered near the hot springs of Vulcano Island in Italy. Does anyone hear the word fury or ferocious buried in that name? The name means "the rushing fireball," according to the European Bioinformatics Institute.

The extreme extremophile will be built with help from a $2.7 million U.S. Department of Energy grant.

How is the super bug supposed to work?

"(The) bug would skip the whole photosynthetic sugar-making step ... Instead the bug would create liquid fuels directly from hydrogen and carbon dioxide," Forbes says.

"The idea is that it would be fed hydrogen and carbon dioxide, derived, perhaps, from natural gas, which has been discovered in great quantities in the U.S. and elsewhere recently."

Extremophiles can live without oxygen, grow in temperatures similar to that of boiling water and are highly resistant to radiation. The bugs freeze to death in temperatures below 158 degrees Fahrenheit (70 Celsius) and breath sulfur, notes the Microbe Zoo at Michigan State University.

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Tags: Bacteria | Biofuels | Genetic Engineering | GMO

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