When you think of alternative energy sources, you don’t usually say, “Ah —microorganisms,” unless you are Microbiology Ohio Eminent Scholar F. Robert Tabita, or graduate student Rick Laguna.
Tabita and his students are excited about their work and its very real potential to solve global problems. They focus on C02 metabolism, important in making biofuels. To tap into that potential, however, takes tinkering and time: looking at basic reactions of enzymes and their genes, then figuring out how to improve and maximize them.
We know that C02 can convert organic carbon and make useful fuels out of waste products. But to get there requires biochemical knowledge on a deep level; you have to know how chemistry works to create a value-added product.
“When we learn to control the metabolism,“ Tabita explains, “we can relate that to the development of biofuels—such as hydrogen. By manipulating metabolism, we can try to alter it so that we can produce large amounts of biofuel from waste material.”
This is what Laguna is working on right now, identifying, growing, and analyzing mutant microbes that have the potential to be produced on a large scale.
Laguna says, “Don’t be too surprised if one day, microbes are responsible for the hydrogen fueling your car.”