MAY 10, 2021 11:46 AM PDT

Using bacteria to produce acetone

Research published in AMB Express reports on a manufacturing development from investigators in Japan. The team has designed a more sustainable technique employing bacteria to produce acetone, a solvent used in a wide range of industrial applications. 

Conventional acetone production requires converting two non-renewable resources into acetone and phenol, and though this process, known as the cumene method, is cost-effective, it is not sustainable. Other attempted techniques to improve sustainability have proven to be tedious and expensive due to the methods used to separate the desired chemicals from other materials.

To address this, the research team changed the way they looked at the problem. "We thought the key is a simultaneous separation of the product from the ongoing fermentation," explains lead researcher Yutaka Nakashimada, professor in the Graduate School of Integrated Sciences for Life, Hiroshima University. "Our choice was to produce volatile chemicals by using a group of bacteria thriving at high temperatures."

The bacteria they employed is called Moorella thermoacetica.  M. thermoacetica produces consumes hydrogen, carbon dioxide and monoxide (gases that can be renewably produced) to generate acetone. The stain of the bacteria that the researchers used is specifically genetically modified to enhance metabolic processes. 

"Our development of the engineered bacteria could pave the way for developing a consolidated process with simplified and cost-effective recovery via condensation following gas fermentation on a large scale suitable for industrial production," comments paper co-first author Junya Kato, assistant professor in the Graduate School of Integrated Sciences for Life, Hiroshima University.

"To our knowledge, this is the first study to provide strains of bacteria that thrive at high temperatures for gas fermentation of acetone," adds Kato. "Although further study would be needed to improve the productivity for the realization of the industrial applications, the gas fermentation process can be simpler and more cost-effective than before."

Sources: AMB Express, Science Daily

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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