Researchers Discover New Cellulose that Could Cut Fuel Costs & Treat Infections

Tuesday, January 23, 2018 - 09:59

Researchers from Stanford University have discovered a new type of cellulose in bacteria that has properties that could make it an improvement over traditional cellulose for fuels and other materials, or for better understanding and treating bacterial infections.

Produced by plants, algae, and some bacteria, cellulose is an abundant molecule involved in the production of hundreds of products, from paper to fabrics to renewable building materials. It’s also one starting material for producing ethanol, a common fuel additive and renewable fuel source, Futurity reports.

The researchers describe this modified cellulose, called pEtN, and its possible applications in the journal Science.

“Cellulose is one of the most well studied polymers in nature,” says Lynette Cegelski, an assistant professor of chemistry and senior author on the paper. That fact made it all the more surprising when the scientists found the new cellulose, and from one of the best studied bacteria—E. coli

The group also believes their finding could have medical applications. The modified cellulose nurtures and surrounds bacterial colonies making up some infections. Cegelski and her collaborators are now testing in mice whether inhibiting its production could help treat those infections.

In addition, they are exploring the mechanical properties of pEtN compared to other forms of cellulose.

In their research, Cegelski and her team explored not only the structure of the new cellulose but also the genes and molecules involved in making it. In the process, they discovered the enzymes that modify the cellulose after it is produced.

Cegelski is now trying to find plant biologists to help introduce genes for making the modified cellulose from bacteria into plants. Plants make more cellulose and are easier to grow on a large scale to produce the volume needed for most applications. They are also exploring additional types of modifications and ways of creating novel forms of cellulose.

Additional researchers from Stanford and from Humboldt University of Berlin contributed to the work. Funding for the research came from Stanford’s Precourt Institute for Energy.

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