Research Team Advances Biological Alternative to Producing Common Petrochemical

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Energy dot gov Office of Energy Efficiency and renewable energy

Bioenergy Technologies Office


March 21, 2022

Research Team Advances Biological Alternative to Producing Common Petrochemical

Liquid cyanobacteria

Liquid cyanobacteria culture being grown in an NREL lab, part of research to cultivate various genetic strains to promote ethylene production. Photo courtesy of Dennis Schroeder, NREL

Ethylene-producing cyanobacteria are a double-win for clean energy—they recycle carbon dioxide and displace fossil-based feedstocks that industry currently depends on. But a major roadblock has come from the organisms themselves: cyanobacteria create a toxic byproduct called guanidine alongside the ethylene.

A cross-institution research team led by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) made important progress in solving the problem.

In a Nature Communications article titled “A guanidine-degrading enzyme controls stability of ethylene-producing cyanobacteria,” the researchers demonstrate that a certain gene can induce stability in these cyanobacteria. Their discovery is a welcome breakthrough, as past attempts at employing this specific ethylene pathway had led to genetic instabilities in the bacteria.

Read more about this research on cyanobacteria funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy Bioenergy Technologies Office.