December 17, 2012
Researchers Use Ice Cream To Make Fossil Fuels
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
The next time you are eating your favorite ice cream sundae or are in the shower lathering up your body with soap; try to think about how those two vastly different items could change the world around you. Now think of certain chemicals that are found in both of them and wonder what they have in common.
To help you out, scientists at the University of Manchester have conducted a study showing how ice cream and soap can turn our world around for the better. It involves the manipulation of hydrocarbon chemicals, which are found in the tasty treat and the freshening cleanser, as well as various other everyday items.
Moreover, the researchers have identified a biocatalyst which could produce those chemicals–possibly leading to long-term replacement of chemicals derived from fossil fuels. Publishing their work in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the researchers have shown their work through an emerging field of synthetic biology.
The development, which came to light with the help of colleagues from the University of Turku in Finland, could mean fuel could be created from naturally-occurring fatty acids.
The researchers said these hydrocarbon chemicals are everywhere in our daily lives. Their number of carbons and whether they are acid, aldehyde, alcohol or alkane are important parameters that influence how toxic they are to the biological world around them, the potential for fuel and their olfactory perception as aromatic compounds.
Professor Nick Turner of Manchester said the breakthrough allows researchers to further explore how to create renewable energy from sustainable sources, and could lead to more innovative ways of sourcing fuel from natural resources.
“In our laboratories in Manchester we currently work with many different biocatalysts that catalyse a range of chemical reactions — the key is to match up the correct biocatalyst with the specific product you are trying to make,” Turner said in a statement.
“Biocatalysts recognize molecules in the way that a lock recognizes a key — they have to fit perfectly together to work. Sometime we redesign the lock so that if can accept a slightly different key allowing us to make even more interesting products,” he added.
"In this example we need to make sure that the fatty acid starting materials would be a perfect match for the biocatalysts that we discovered and developed in our laboratories,” said Turner.
He said the work with University of Turku was very beneficial in the hunt for the workable solution to the biocatalyst puzzle. As with many leading areas of science, Turner noted it was “necessary for two or more laboratories around the world to come together to solve challenging problems.”