LSU grad student engineering E. coli to produce biodiesel

(LSU) Tatiana Mello

Can a dangerous bacteria be transformed into feedstock? One LSU mechanical engineering graduate student may answer that question.

LSU mechanical engineering graduate student Tatiana Mello of Piracicaba, Brazil, is working on genetically engineering and optimizing E. coli bacteria to produce bioproducts like biodiesel in a cost-effective manner. She recently spoke about her research at the recent National Biodiesel Conference and Expo in San Diego.

Mello proposes using E. coli bacteria to expand biodiesel production by creating a new type of feedstock.

“The main feedstocks used in the U.S. for biodiesel are soybean and corn oil,” she says. “The actual production is enough to feed us, but you have the surplus that nobody knew what to do with, so biodiesel was created. This market is growing and growing. They expect within a few decades, the surplus won’t be enough to produce biodiesel. E. coli is cheap and abundant, and you can just genetically modify it to fulfill this need.”

Mello’s main goal is to create Malonyl-CoA bioproducts, such as biodiesel, plastics, polymers, and pharmaceuticals. Malonyl-CoA is found in bacteria from humans and has important roles in regulating fatty acid metabolism and food intake. It’s also an attractive target for drug discovery.

“Malonyl-CoA maximization is the topic of my research because it’s a precursor for so many things,” she says.

Mello, who has worked on this project for two years, presented her project at the National Biodiesel Conference and Expo in San Diego last month. Only 12 university-level science majors in the country who are interested in learning about the biodiesel industry receive travel scholarships to attend. However, only four of those students are asked to present their research.

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