Ancient biology meets modern ingenuity

Clostridium autoethanogenum was originally discovered in rabbit droppings. Credit: University of Queensland

The average person might struggle to get excited about bacterium found in rabbit droppings – but it’s potentially a knight in shining armour for our planet.


Researchers at The University of Queensland’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) and US company LanzaTech have developed a computer model that harnesses ancient microorganisms for an environmentally sound industrial waste conversion method.

AIBN researcher Dr Esteban Marcellin said LanzaTech, a gas fermentation company, was particularly interested in a bacterium called Clostridium autoethanogenum, originally discovered in rabbit droppings.

“LanzaTech uses this bacterium (which falls under the broader class of acetogens) as part of its carbon capture and reuse process, whereby industrial waste gases such as steel mill exhaust are converted into useful by-products like ethanol,” Dr Marcellin said.

“Acetogens are among the oldest living microorganisms and account for around 20 per cent of the fixed carbon on the planet, making them a major player in the .”

Through an Australian Research Council linkage project, LanzaTech teamed up with AIBN researchers to better understand the process by which the microbe ‘fixes’ carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, and then determine how to modify the microbe so that waste gas can be turned into useful chemicals.

To achieve this LanzaTech researchers and Dr Marcellin’s team developed a computer model of C. autoethanogenum’s metabolic pathways.

LanzaTech founder and chief science officer Dr Sean Simpson said: “By including operating data from fermentations happening at steel mills around the world, the UQ team has made the most accurate…

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