Biotechnologists want to replace petroleum-based substances with a bacterium from bovine stomachs

The cow as climate savior?


Petroleum is found in most of our everyday products, for example in diapers and detergents. In future, such substances could be replaced by biodegradable raw materials that a bacterium can produce from the stomach of cattle. Scientists at Saarland University are researching how this could work together with colleagues from research and industry in a project funded by the German government.

Computer-generated image

Cows could play a part in scientists developing climate and environmentally friendly technologies with their help (symbolic image).

The cow as a climate saver? This is unlikely to be the public perception. On the contrary: the rearing of cattle and the consumption of beef are considered climate sins par excellence. And yet ruminants could play a part in scientists developing climate and environmentally friendly technologies with their help.

To be more precise, it is not the cow itself, but Basfia succiniciproducens. This bacterium, which is involved in digestion in the stomachs of cattle, is the focus of scientists led by Christoph Wittmann, Professor of Systems Biotechnology at Saarland University. Together with colleagues from the Universities of Marburg and Kaiserslautern and with the chemical company BASF as coordinator, they have been researching since January 2024 how they can modify Basfia succiniciproducens to produce fumarate.

This metabolic intermediate is a promising starting material for a wealth of biodegradable chemical end products that could replace today's petroleum-based chemical products on a large scale. As a platform chemical, the biotechnologically produced fumarate is a precursor for products in the homecare sector, as well as a building block for certain pharmaceuticals or polymers. "The highlight here is that Basfia succiniciproducens can use CO2 to generate energy under anaerobic conditions," explains Christoph Wittmann. The bacterium from the bovine stomach could therefore both replace climate-damaging petroleum products and consume CO2, thus directly reducing the pollution of the earth's atmosphere with the greenhouse gas.

However, several years of research will have to pass before this is achieved. However, even at the beginning of its term, the project shows the sophisticated ideas with which clever minds like Christoph Wittmann and his colleagues are tackling current problems and sometimes, as here, killing two birds with one stone

Note: This article has been translated using a computer system without human intervention. LUMITOS offers these automatic translations to present a wider range of current news. Since this article has been translated with automatic translation, it is possible that it contains errors in vocabulary, syntax or grammar. The original article in German can be found here.

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