Genetically modified bacteria can convert glucose into fatty acid, and then into the hydrocarbons contained in gasoline.

Researchers at the University of Buffalo used sugar-eating bacteria to make olefins from glucose, a type of hydrocarbon and one of several types of molecules that make up gasoline.

Olefins make up a small percentage of gasoline molecules. But science will be able to create other types of hydrocarbons, in particular the rest of the components of gasoline, the authors are sure. Olefins are also used today in industrial lubricants and as a precursor for the manufacture of plastics.

The authors of the new work used a strain of Escherichia coli, which is not hazardous to health. These microbes actively feed on sugar. Researchers have genetically engineered them so that they convert glucose into 3-hydroxy fatty acids.

They then used a catalyst, niobium pentoxide (Nb2O5), to remove unwanted fatty acid portions and produce olefins. The authors note that glucose is formed as a result of photosynthesis, which pulls CO2 out of the air, so in the end the whole process can be called environmentally friendly.

Scientists are now testing how their method is applicable for mass production, and also investigating where else olefin can be used.