E. coli: easily the most loved and hated bacterium is quickly becoming a superhero

Love it or hate it, E. coli is a “Jack of all trades”. Fifty years of research has made this small organism the best characterized living thing on the planet. And, this activity doesn’t look like it will let up anytime soon. With all the molecular biology tools available for E. coli, adding or removing genes can be successfully completed within a week (if you are in a hot streak). Manipulating its metabolism genetically can lead to production of a desired molecule or protein of up to 90% the total cellular output. In other words, you can turn E. coli¬†towards ethical slavery.

With the increasing ease of synthetic biology, manipulating E. coli is becoming more sophisticated. Introducing entire metabolic pathways complete with gene regulators is now possible. One can now envision feeding E. coli plant biomass and it pooping out diesel fuel.

biomass, biofuel, bacteria, microbiology, e. coli, science art
Illustration of E. coli that has been engineered to produce cellulosomes for plant cell wall degradation

 

Friend and Foe: Illustration of common blue-green algal species Microcystis

Sometimes in nature it’s not what you are but who you are. A great example of this is the cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) from the genus Microcystis. They are common in freshwater habitats. Some of these are showing bright potential as a source of biofuels. However, some of these have less benevolent potential. I have heard much lately about algal blooms. Some are harmless while others have potential to harm wildlife and unsuspecting humans who eat poisoned seafood.

Some species, like Microcystis aeruginosa, can produce microcystins, or toxins, that can cause major damage to a person’s liver.

cyanobacterial art, science art, bacteria, illustrated bacteria
Illustration of Microcystis