Biofuel is growing all around us in grasses and trees, we just haven’t unlocked it yet. Our team wants to give an archea a little push to digest cellulose, the stuff that makes our paper, into biofuel for our engines. Normally a fortress of ligands keeps cellulose under lock and key. To make the cellulose accesible, we need to add an ionic solution to the plant material, which would shrivel up your typical cell. That’s where Haloferax volcanii comes in. H. volcanii is a halophile archea, which means it’s cozy in high salt environments. It may be the agent we need to break down the cellulose and survive the ionic solution. H. volcanii can already make butanol out of cellulose. The only problem is, once it has the butanol H. volcanii keeps processing it into parts for its cell membrane. We want to knock out the right gene so H. volcanii won’t process the butanol. The butanol should then start piling up, and we’ll have biofuel. This biofuel will still emit CO2 but it won’t add new carbon into the climate because its carbon came from plants instead of fossil fuels. Whatever carbon we add to the climate by using biofuel will be reused on the same scale as we grow more plants that will take in CO2. We can effectively shorten the carbon cycle and stop adding to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere

Compare these two carbon cycles: On the left is the current carbon cycle using fossil fuels.
On the right, we have the shorter cycle displaying the effect of switching to biofuel.

To read more about carbon neutrality and these graphics, click here for our Carbon Neutrality article

The Future of the Project

This iGEM project proved successful enough to become a new class at UCSC!
It is being absorbed by the Biomolecular Engineering Department and taught as an alternative senior design track.