Adelaide researchers find how a bacteria digests a sugar can be key to new treatments
The severity of a common and often lethal type of bacteria
depends on its ability to process a type of sugar, research from the University
of Adelaide reveals.
Streptococcus pneumoniae causes diseases of the
lungs, blood, ear and brain, killing an estimated one million people every
year. Moreover S. pneumoniae causes
otitis media (infection of the middle ear), which devastates Aboriginal
populations. It also rapidly develops resistance to antibiotics, making it
challenging to treat.
Baker’s yeast could soon be turning sugar cane into jet fuel. Dr Claudia Vickers from the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) at the University of Queensland leads a team studying strains which already produce ethanol, industrial chemicals and pharmaceuticals.
The researchers want to use the yeast strains S. cerevisiae to make isoprenoids, chemicals traditionally used to make pharmaceuticals and food additives, but which can also serve as fuel.
The idea is to give the yeast new functions, so they can consume sucrose from cane sugar and produce isoprenoid products, which can be used to replace or supplement traditional jet fuel, without modifying existing aircraft engines or infrastructure.
Claudia’s lab was originally looking at the gut bacteria E. coli, which could also be used to produce isoprenoids, but the yeast is now looking more promising.
Other research groups at The University of Queensland and James Cook University are looking to develop aviation fuel from algae and the oilseed tree Pongamia, both of which can be grown without competing with traditional food crops for land or water.
The University’s sustainable aviation fuel initiative has attracted several backers including Boeing, Virgin Australia, Mackay Sugar, Brisbane-based IOR Energy, and the US-based green energy company Amyris. It is funded by the Queensland State Government.
Photo: Dr Claudia Vickers is leading a team looking at modifying baker’s yeast to make aviation fuel.
Sugarcane is one of nature’s most efficient natural converters of sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into fuel or biomass – and as such, it is perhaps the world’s fastest growing and largest biomass agricultural crop.