The Extreme 16: Strutting microbial Terminators pumping up the pursuit of sustainable molecules

February 8, 2016 |

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 6.15.49 PMTake it to the Extreme, with these microscopic wonders that are changing the way we pursue sustainable fuels, renewable chemicals and biobased materials.

These days, researchers are turning up life forms trapped under hundreds of feet of Antarctic ice, in the syrupyist salty ponds, in mineral waters heated to more than 150 degrees Fahrenheit — in fact in so many extreme niches that its given space researchers a reasonable degree of hope that life could exist in comparable niches on Mars.

And its good news that places like the volcanoes and hot springs at Yellowstone’s Obsidian Pool have some use, aside from shocking visitors with the taste of its waters, described by one diarist as “a diabolic julep of lucifer matches, bad eggs, vinegar and magnesia.”

Why extremophiles for renewable fuels?

Think of three reasons, to start with.

First, they are less vulnerable to competition from other organisms in a broth — fewer side-reactions, less risk of one-celled production organisms being devoured by two-celled predators.

Second, if they can process biomass stew at a high temperature, there less need for cooling cycles — and energy-intensive heating and cooling cycles to cater to the need for low-temperature conversion and high-temperature separation (for example, distillation) is a cost-driver.

Third, some extremophiles work faster than their normal-condition counterparts, so there are process efficiencies to be achieved.

Read More

PNAS: Exploiting microbial hyperthermophilicity to produce an industrial chemical, using hydrogen and carbon dioxide.
Joint Genome Institute: Uncovering Hidden Microbial Lineages from Hot Springs

And now…the Extreme 16

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