E. coli bacteria engineered to eat carbon dioxide

What could go wrong? ~cr

From Nature

Feat could turn bacteria into biological factories for energy and even food.

E.coli bacteria.

The bacterium Escherichia coli has been engineered to grow by consuming carbon dioxide.Credit: Steve Gschmeissner/SPL

E. coli is on a diet. Researchers have created a strain of the lab workhorse bacterium — full name Escherichia coli — that grows by consuming carbon dioxide instead of sugars or other organic molecules.

The achievement is a milestone, say scientists, because it drastically alters the inner workings of one of biology’s most popular model organisms. And in the future, CO2-eating E. coli could be used to make organic carbon molecules that could be used as biofuels or to produce food. Products made in this way would have lower emissions compared with conventional production methods, and could potentially remove the gas from the air. The work is published in Cell1 on 27 November.

“It’s like a metabolic heart transplantation,” says Tobias Erb, a biochemist and synthetic biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology in Marburg, Germany, who wasn’t involved in the study.

Plants and photosynthetic cyanobacteria — aquatic microbes that produce oxygen — use the energy from light to transform, or fix, CO2 into the carbon-containing building blocks of life, including DNA, proteins and fats. But these organisms can be hard to genetically modify, which has slowed efforts to turn them into biological factories.

By contrast, E. coli is relatively easy to engineer, and its fast growth means that changes can be quickly tested and tweaked to optimize genetic alterations. But the bacterium prefers to grow on sugars such as glucose — and instead of consuming CO2, it emits the gas as waste.

Ron Milo, a systems biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, and his team have spent the past decade overhauling E. coli’s diet. In 2016, they created2 a strain that consumed CO2, but the compound accounted for only a fraction of the organism’s carbon intake — the rest was an organic compound that the bacteria were fed, called pyruvate.

Full proof of concept paper here.

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Tom Gelsthorpe
November 30, 2019 2:04 am

Plants already “eat” carbon dioxide. What’s the big deal? Why would anyone want to retrain the bacteria that live in guts to compete with plants?

Reply to  Tom Gelsthorpe
November 30, 2019 3:52 am

Insanity, caused by groupthink.

Tom Gelsthorpe
Reply to  Chaswarnertoo
November 30, 2019 4:30 am

Can shrinkololgical scientists train some bug to “eat” insanity, thereby reducing the ravages of groupthink? It could work like introducing the myxomatosis virus into Australia to control the plague of invasive European rabbits.

Shrinks could find something more constructive to do than doping schoolboys into submission with Ritalin for the alleged sin of “hyperactivity” (AKA getting bored in school).

Whaddaya think? Or would it just be replacing one strain of meddlesome mad scientists with another?

old white guy
Reply to  Tom Gelsthorpe
November 30, 2019 4:34 am

They really really do want to kill us.

Reply to  old white guy
November 30, 2019 5:33 am

my first thought too….and it this gets loose

Reply to  old white guy
November 30, 2019 7:11 am

…if this gets loose, maybe it will eat them first! 🙂

Reply to  Tom Gelsthorpe
November 30, 2019 6:39 am

Would be because of the abundance of co2 in the enviroment that is playing a major role in the warming of the planet the problem is creating a balance as we reduce our output of co2. For me due to the strict need to keep close controls on living organisms whether this could be scaled up to provide any tangible benefits to fight against global warming

James R Clarke
Reply to  Nigel
November 30, 2019 10:59 am

For the last several million years, global warming has always brought huge benefits to the biosphere, while the more dominant global cooling has produced massive hardships for life on Earth.

Everytime I hear the phrase: “fight global warming” my head spins. Who is behind this movement? Dr. Evil?

Reply to  Nigel
November 30, 2019 12:37 pm

The overwhelming abundance of CO2 in the environment is found in carbonate sediments. Those sediments don’t affect the atmosphere. We actually are still at a multi-million year low in the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and unless the amount is significantly raised the next glacial period this planet enters into could result in an extinction level event for all living organisms tied to the carbon cycle.

Curious George
Reply to  Tom Gelsthorpe
November 30, 2019 7:54 am

Exothermic or endothermic reactions, who cares? But it is not a new idea. In the old good USSR scientists attempted to teach horse how to go around without food. The experiment proceeded very nicely, the horse almost learned it – but then he died.

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  Curious George
November 30, 2019 8:09 am

Glad a few people get it.
Good on ya, George.
I am on the verge of being embarrassed by some of the nervous Nancy comments here.

Reply to  Nicholas McGinley
November 30, 2019 10:32 am
Reply to  Tom Gelsthorpe
November 30, 2019 8:42 am

Will flatulence now be a mixture of methane and oxygen merely waiting for some static electrical spark?
Oh the humanity!

Reply to  Tom Gelsthorpe
December 1, 2019 4:04 am

So we run out of precious carbon dioxide and all die along with all plant life. When we have a sterile planet, all those dead tree huggers will finally be happy!

Ben Vorlich
November 30, 2019 2:16 am

What could go wrong indeed? Well for a start an escape of Carbon Dioxide eating bacteria into the environment could kill all living things. The road to damnation is paved with good intentions., (and unintended consequences).

John McClure
Reply to  Ben Vorlich
November 30, 2019 6:25 am

That was my first reaction.

Research paper on Cell.com:

This appears to be a milestone breakthrough for future research in the name of sustainability.

Hoping it doesn’t turn into the ultimate Darwin Award.

Reply to  Ben Vorlich
November 30, 2019 6:38 am

Maybe this is why we have detected no intelligent life in the galaxy – because there comes a time when intelligent life creates somethings that destroys them. These people are genuinely insane.

John McClure
Reply to  ggm
November 30, 2019 7:05 am

It might make sense on Mars.

Paul of Alexandria
Reply to  Ben Vorlich
November 30, 2019 6:58 am

God help us if this ever gets into a coal mine or oil well.

Windy Wilson
Reply to  Paul of Alexandria
November 30, 2019 1:27 pm

Am I the only one who is reminded of Vonnegut and the story about “Ice-nine”?

November 30, 2019 2:18 am

Interesting, but there is already an organism that eats CO2 and turns it to food and fuel. It is called a plant.

Reply to  XYZ
November 30, 2019 12:32 pm

If we only could harness them on a sparsely populated place with people who like to learn to code them, we could create our own food and maybe even feed the whole Kalizuela.

Alexander Vissers
November 30, 2019 2:24 am

Cyano bacteria have been doing this for billions of years and green plants thrive on CO2 so why the fuss?

Reply to  Alexander Vissers
November 30, 2019 2:44 am

The fuss is that if it got out of hand and ate too much CO2 we might end up with not enough CO2 to sustain plant life.
Alarmist? Me?

Reply to  Oldseadog
November 30, 2019 4:53 am

and we have enough serious issues with E coli already
cross some AB resistant genes via nature into that lab version..and remember we as well as animals are also Carbon based life forms
utterly stupid”science” yet again
the amount of time money and lifetime that could be better spent working on real problems over crap like this gets me angry
and if its Israel you in the ussa mostly paid for it anyway with the massive handouts they get from you.

Rich Davis
Reply to  Oldseadog
November 30, 2019 9:16 am

I don’t think anybody should get too concerned about CO2 being all eaten up by these gmo bugs. You need a lot of energy to turn CO2 into sugars or hydrocarbons–the same amount of energy that you release when you burn those fuels. In plants, the energy comes from sunlight. It’s not clear where these things get the necessary energy or even if they are net consumers or producers of CO2. If some carbon is converted from CO2 to sugars, but the energy to do that comes from oxidizing pyruvate, then it seems that it must produce more CO2 than it consumes. If it somehow gets the energy from light, that won’t be a problem in our guts.

I wouldn’t dismiss the concern that it could out-compete normal gut bacteria and in some way have a negative impact on human health, but that also seems unlikely. There would need to be some advantage to them in order for them to dominate. Certainly if they depend on light, they are going to be at a disadvantage in our guts.

Having said all that, it’s just another waste of time and money, based on the delusion that CO2 is a problem. Seems like if you’re a biochemist and you’re not getting the funding you need, you can try promising a new unicorn bacteria that eats CO2.

Reply to  Rich Davis
November 30, 2019 12:18 pm

My thoughts entirely. They are using energy from pyruvate, which is a 3-carbon breakdown product of glucose usually. Sounds like these bugs need to be fed with already broken down carbohydrates. ? more growing corn to feed bugs instead of using other bugs to break down carbs to ethanol to rot ICE’s.

Carl Friis-Hansen
November 30, 2019 2:24 am

Products made in this way would have lower emissions compared with conventional production methods, and could potentially remove the gas from the air.

Wonderful, large scale of this could maybe soon save the Earth from all these terrible green plants./SARC

November 30, 2019 2:36 am

The claim looks like a fake news : where does the necessary energy comes from ?
Il the case of plants eating CO2, the energy comes from the sun light.

Reply to  Canevet
November 30, 2019 7:27 am

I meant to respond to your comment, which is at the heart of the matter, but my comment appeared below. People tend to forget the basics. I often hear people propose to use a catalyst for this or that but a catalyst can only work to change kinetics, not thermodynamics.

Enthalpy determines whether the above is even possible. In the latest work, it appears that the energy comes from formate.

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  Scissor
November 30, 2019 8:06 am

These “scientists ” need to figure out the source of contamination of their samp!es.
It is impossible for carbon to be oxidized past the -4 oxidation state it is in in a CO2 molecule.
Only fluorine is more electromagnetic than oxygen, so it is not even theoretically possible to get energy from CO2 no matter the concentration, except possibly by a reaction with flourine. Not flouride. Fkourine.
Which I seriously doubt is what they did because flourine is fatally toxic to pretty much everything…because of this very electronegativity.
I am calling buckshot on this paper.
And the people here who are worried need to come up on chemistry.
CO2 is a waste product for a reason.
It has no more chemical energy left to be had.
Everything involving CO2 as a reactant is endothermic.
You cannot get blood from a stone.

Reply to  Scissor
November 30, 2019 8:54 am

Good stuff. Demonstrates a good knowledge of thermo. People have been asking me for years, “Why don’t we just strip the oxygen from the carbon and turn it back into carbon and O2? See, problem solved!’ Since it takes more energy to do that than you got in the first place, I say, “If you are going to do that, why burn it at all?”

Reply to  oeman50
November 30, 2019 12:12 pm

It’s like the belief that EV’s are really “emission free” or some other such nonsense. The general public is technically illiterate.

Look at the picture that accompanies this Pielke piece in Forbes. It shows cooling towers and the caption says they are emitting “smoke and vapor.”


Look at the

Randy Wester
Reply to  Scissor
November 30, 2019 4:52 pm

The smoke is from anti-nuclear protesters sparking up near the base of the towers.

Reply to  oeman50
November 30, 2019 2:27 pm

Being embedded in lot of chemistry and biology, people may not recognize this as a perpetual motion machine. It seems to have fooled the reviewers and editors at the Nature research journal, who really should know better..

Robin Matyjasek
November 30, 2019 2:44 am

What is the danger that, given the relative and undoubtedly increasing abundance of atmospheric CO2, this particular super-E-coli strain goes into apocalyptic logarithmic runaway mode (or should that be “tipping point”?), gobbles up all the remaining CO2 causing widespread irreversible famine and death to all living things, then in turn also promptly dies off as quickly as it arrived as it has no food left? So, (1) have I been reading too much cataclysmic claptrap, or (2) would it not be better to simply leave well enough alone?

November 30, 2019 2:46 am

I was going to write a dystopia with this: genetically engineered bacteria that remove CO2 permanently. It goes horribly right.
(Lymestone or something. Orwell never explained how his telescreens work.)

Tom Gelsthorpe
Reply to  Christina Widmann
November 30, 2019 4:35 am

Ms. Widmann:

Your dystopian idea resembles the premise of Kurt Vonnegut’s book, “The Cat’s Cradle, where a discovery called Ice Nine suddenly froze all the oceans on earth by changing the polarity of the water molecule.

I say, “Go for it!” It’s about time someone dealt these meddlesome do-gooders a comeuppance.

Mark Whitney
Reply to  Christina Widmann
November 30, 2019 6:04 am

There was a book in the 1970s, “Mutant 59: The Plastic Eaters” about bacteria engineered to control plastic waste. That went well. > ; “

Paul of Alexandria
Reply to  Christina Widmann
November 30, 2019 7:04 am

The bacteria mainly eats Pyruvate.
“Pyruvate is a derivative of pyruvate acid and plays a role in glycolysis, or sugar metabolism. While the human body naturally synthesizes this compound from glucose, it also occurs naturally in red wine, dark beer, red apples and other foods. “
It’s all over the place. If this bug gets loose in a grain elevator we’re in trouble.

Tired Old Nurse
November 30, 2019 2:46 am

This sounds like a plot for an old Bond movie. Dr Evil threatens to release the lab altered E Coli into the environment if the world leaders do not bow down to him!

Bill Powers
November 30, 2019 3:06 am

This is what happens when you intentionally dumb down the population. Obviously they have been so indoctrinated with the impending “crisis” of CO2, our “CO2pocalypse” that they don’t have the bandwidth to grasp the Law of Unintended Consequences. Or these people have lost their effing minds and One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest.

Tom Gelsthorpe
Reply to  Bill Powers
November 30, 2019 4:41 am

Mr. Powers:

All your above explanations are plausible. I’m an Occam’s Razor guy who leans towards the idea that the simplest explanation is the most likely. In this case, that “people have lost their effing minds.”

There’s a swell book on the subject written in 1841, about the historic frequency of mass insanity, with oodles of examples. It’s titled, “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.”

Unfortunately the principles still apply, and examples still abound.

November 30, 2019 3:10 am

not with a bang, but a whimper

November 30, 2019 3:17 am

I wonder how much funding this waste of time cost?

Right-Handed Shark
Reply to  fretslider
November 30, 2019 3:56 am

Will continue to cost..

Reply to  Right-Handed Shark
November 30, 2019 7:07 am

The beatings will continue until morale improves, or funding runs out.

There is no chance that this bacteria can survive in the environment by consumption of CO2. It only does this conversion in the lab because it is supplied with and engineered to consume formate (initially pyruvate) as its source of energy.

Curious observer
November 30, 2019 4:03 am

For anyone who has ever had E Coli overtake the good bacteria in your gut and cause raging diarrhea, with the need for multiple antibiotics to bring things back to equilibrium: I am sure they would be excited to hear this news. Let’s produce something in large enough volume outside the human body that could return to the human body and cause the whole world to s—t their brains out 🤔

Windy Wilson
Reply to  Curious observer
November 30, 2019 1:30 pm

I think that’s already happened, and modern “culture” is the result.

November 30, 2019 4:16 am

Why, oh why do we interfere with nature and think we know best. The world is awash with our “Help” that has become a disaster.

Samuel C Cogar
November 30, 2019 4:37 am

E. coli bacteria engineered to eat carbon dioxide

Charles Rotter / 2 hours ago November 30, 2019

What could go wrong? ~cr

Charles R, ….. great question.

And just a day or so ago I was pondering the same question about a mutated Chlorophyceae (green algae).

What do you think, to wit:

Energy Miracle Algae. 10.000 Barrels A Day, Less CO2: 2025

What type of algae is used for biofuel?

The algae used in biodiesel production are usually aquatic unicellular green algae (Chlorophyceae). This type of algae is a photosynthetic eukaryote characterized by high growth rates and high population densities. Under good conditions, green algae can double its biomass in less than 24 hours.

….. Like mentioned above, algae biofuel is known as the third-generation biofuel, it can grow in salty water,
Source of excerpts is here

November 30, 2019 4:41 am

Yet another really bad idea from the “anti-carbon brain trust”. Increasing atmospheric CO2 will certainly NOT cause dangerous global warming – that is proven false nonsense.

Atmospheric CO2 is not alarmingly high, it is too low for optimal plant growth and alarmingly low for the survival of carbon-based terrestrial life.

Humans may be the very first species in Earth’s history to create a mega-extinction, and it will be caused by CO2 starvation, driven by the corrupt politicians and the intense stupidity of their acolytes.


15. Atmospheric CO2 is not alarmingly high, it is too low for optimal plant growth and alarmingly low for the survival of carbon-based terrestrial life. The real danger is not too much CO2 – it is CO2 starvation. Over geologic time, CO2 is ~permanently sequestered in carbonate rocks.

Plants evolved at atmospheric CO2 concentrations of 2000 ppm and greater, and many grow best at about 1200 ppm CO2 – about 3 times current levels. That is why greenhouse operators maintain 1000-1200 ppm CO2 in their greenhouses.

Major food crops (except corn) use the C3 photosynthetic pathway, and die at about 150 ppm from CO2 starvation – that is just 30 ppm below the minimum levels during the last Ice Age, which ended just 10,000 years ago – “the blink of an eye” in geologic time. Earth came that close to a major extinction event.

During one of the next Ice Ages, unless there is massive human intervention, atmospheric CO2 will decline to below 150 ppm and that will be the next major extinction event – not just for a few species but for ~all complex terrestrial carbon-based life forms.

Reference: “(Plant) Food for Thought”
(first posted in January 2009 on wattsupwiththat.com, published on icecap.us in December 2014)
by Allan MacRae, Dec 18, 2014

Reference: “Should We Celebrate Carbon Dioxide?”
by Patrick Moore, October 15, 2015

Excerpted from:
CO2, Global Warming, Climate And Energy
by Allan M.R. MacRae, B.A.Sc., M.Eng., June 15, 2019
Excel: https://wattsupwiththat.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Rev_CO2-Global-Warming-Climate-and-Energy-June2019-FINAL.xlsx

November 30, 2019 7:23 am

It’s not necessarily a bad idea, though it may have originated from a faulty premise. It could be used as a tool for environmental control in space stations or colonies, flue gas carbon recovery, etc.

Perhaps we will have the wherewithal to keep CO2 above 150 ppm and more importantly at this time to protect the earth from impact events.

Reply to  Scissor
November 30, 2019 9:58 am

This CO2-eating bacteria nonsense DEFINITELY originated from a faulty premise – that is certain.

Where is goes from here is anyone’s guess. Are there any safeguards in this genetic modification?

The egregious error in the original premise could end very badly.

November 30, 2019 2:02 pm

Most definitely there are policies and engineering controls in place as safeguards. Not that these are always effective.

I’m of the opinion that the German government has funded worse research on a relative scale. At least we won’t see these researchers begging at some intersection with a cardboard sign that says. “Help fund my E. coli research, bitte.”

Reply to  Scissor
December 1, 2019 8:59 am

Scissor wrote:
“Most definitely there are policies and engineering controls in place as safeguards.”

How do you know that – references please?

November 30, 2019 12:05 pm

Hi Allen Macrae – I think you will enjoy the ensuing link. For those who like a simply read orientation I’ll say the following with reference to the full cited report.

Plants are not lineal responders & interacting factors confound our assumptions. Yes stomata (leaf pores) do appear ~ 430 million years ago when CO2 was exceptionally elevated.

Flowering plants, which are now our main food plants, came along & spread when CO2 started dropping [[for a simplified time frame the CO2 drop was ~ 400 million years ago & lasting about100 million years to ~ 300 million years ago; then another phase of CO2 dropping starting ~ 100 million years ago to our modern era ]]. What flowering plants (angiosperm) perfected as CO2 significantly decreased was a performance improvement in their vascular (xylem & leaf vein) conductivity, plus greater CO2 conductivity at stomata (via physical characteristics, density, etc.).

What counter-intuitively occurred was the relevant assimilation of carbon (from CO2) was actually going up for flowering plants despite lower CO2; until however about 50 million years ago, when the rate of carbon assimilation started to go down again. But, even with this eventually decline in carbon assimilation the rate of carbon assimilation was (is) still higher than it was for plants over 400 million years ago.

However, water use efficiency (“WUE”) definitely went down with declining CO2 ; when likewise also ~ 50 million years ago this dynamic progressively declined to it’s essentially current level. As many know research has posited improved water use efficiency as a major feature of elevated CO2.

See these non-linear time scale dynamics graphed in Fig. 7 of free full on-line text of (2009) “CO2 – Forced evolution of plant gas exchange capacity and water use efficiency over the Phanerozoic”.

Samuel C Cogar
Reply to  gringojay
November 30, 2019 1:57 pm

gringojay – November 30, 2019 at 12:05 pm

when CO2 started dropping [[for a simplified time frame the CO2 drop was ~ 400 million years ago & lasting about100 million years to ~ 300 million years ago; then another phase of CO2 dropping starting ~ 100 million years ago to our modern era ]].

But, but, …… this Paleo Proxy graph of atmospheric CO2 ……. denotes the time frame for the CO2 drop was ~ 400 mYBP & lasting about 120 million years to 280 mYBP; …… then CO2 began increasing up to 2,000+ ppm; before another phase of CO2 dropping starting at 150 mYBP …… and dropped below 800 ppm at 66 mYBP …and continued dropping to our modern era.

IMO, the dinosaurs grew big and fat on all the “green” growing lush vegetation and then they slowly starved to death when the vegetation starved to death for lack of CO2.

Samuel C Cogar
November 30, 2019 1:20 pm

ALLAN MACRAE – November 30, 2019 at 4:41 am

15. Atmospheric CO2 is not alarmingly high, it is too low for optimal plant growth and alarmingly low for the survival of carbon-based terrestrial life. The real danger is not too much CO2 – it is CO2 starvation.

Plants evolved at atmospheric CO2 concentrations of 2000 ppm and greater, and many grow best at about 1200 ppm CO2 – about 3 times current levels.

Allan, …. IMLO you are correct on both the above claims, ….. (1) that the real danger is CO2 starvation ….. and (2) that many plants grow best at about 1,200 ppm CO2 (or greater).

And Allan, according to the proxy record, when the plants started growing their best due to the increase in CO2 to 1,000+ ppm and continued increasing to like 2,600 ppm, …… then the plant eaters (herbivores) also started growing their best, …… which in turn permitted the meat eaters (carnivores) to be growing their best.

But alas, when the CO2 started decreasing from its high of 2,600 ppm, the abundant plant growth followed suite, …… which in-turn triggered a population decrease of the largest plant eaters (herbivores), …… which in-turn triggered a population decrease of the largest meat eaters (carnivores),

And the above is exactly what I believed occurred from the late Permian Period through the Cretaceous Period, …… an era known as The Age of the Dinosaurs (252 mya to 66 mya) …. as denoted on this Paleo Proxy graph of atmospheric CO2 and temperatures.

According to the above noted Paleo Proxy graph, the dinosaurs should have already been starving to death long before any asteroid crashed into the Gulf of Mexico.

Cheers, Sam C

Reply to  Samuel C Cogar
November 30, 2019 3:36 pm

Hi Sam C., – As per your referenced chart: It was precisely during the early Cretaceous & Cenozoic times that flowering plants (angiosperms) successfully spread.

Take a look at my initially cited above link’s Fig. 1 to see how distinct the angiosperm leaf stomata physical dimensions (capacious) became by ~100 million years ago. Super high CO2 during the prehistoric eras did not mean that assimilation of carbon from CO2 was greater than what angiosperm plants were able to do achieve assimilating carbon when they gained niches millions of years ago. [[To be clear: I am not saying modern bred plants grow “worse” in elevated CO2.]]

Based on your referenced chart & my previously cited Fig. 7 considered together we may be able to infer it was the diminishing “average global temperature” (yours) with concurrent declining “water use efficiency”(mine) that are contributing factors to the declining plant carbon assimilation. Of course this is correlating our charts & does not take into account other factors, so I am pretty sure this can not be the complete explanation.

Your herbivore dinosaurs under high CO2 would be eating plants with a relatively higher carbon : nitrogen ratio than the same plant under lower CO2. Yet some parameters other than biomass are also relevant.

High CO2 gives less carbon partitioned to structural components (lignin) & more to sugars/starch. However, cellulose which form a major part of ruminant diets is another structural component made from carbon & under high CO2 cellulose content generally also is relatively less. Since herbivore dinosaurs diet would have undergone some changes as ambient CO2 declined; more nutrient dense feedstock of higher soluble protein & yet less fermentable cellulose per unit was being eaten.

Meanwhile, under lower CO2 there is decreased plant tannin content. This is relatively better since reduced tannin increases ruminant feeding & nutrient assimilation.

Which makes me wonder if your hypothesis of inadequate ruminant feed amount due to lower CO2 is addressing a decisive fact in their decline. Taking your premise their numbers were declining as CO2 declined: might it be their dietary reduction in the ratio of fermentable cellulose was more significant than any abundance of edible terrestrial plants ingested?

Samuel C Cogar
Reply to  gringojay
December 1, 2019 7:13 am

gringojay – November 30, 2019 at 3:36 pm

Hi Sam C., – As per your referenced chart: It was precisely during the early Cretaceous & Cenozoic times that flowering plants (angiosperms) successfully spread (100 mYBP).

Gringojay, are you inferring that it was the spread of the angiosperms that caused the demise of the herbivore dinosaurs? I mean like, if the dinosaurs disappeared from the fossil record at 66 mYBP, then me thinks it is reasonable to assume that they were in decline during the entire Cretaceous Period. In decline because maybe the angiosperms were not growing fast enough to sustain the herbivore’s diet.

HA, I never considered that possibility.

Based on your referenced chart & my previously cited Fig. 7 considered together we may be able to infer it was the diminishing “average global temperature” (yours) with concurrent declining “water use efficiency”(mine)

Gringojay, me thinks you are confused, …. there was no diminishing “average global temperature” during my denoted Age of the Dinosaurs …. but there was during your denoted Tertiary Period.

Your herbivore dinosaurs under high CO2 would be eating plants with a relatively higher carbon : nitrogen ratio than the same plant under lower CO2. Yet some parameters other than biomass are also relevant.

High CO2 gives less carbon partitioned to structural components (lignin) & more to sugars/starch. However, cellulose which form a major part of ruminant diets is another structural component made from carbon & under high CO2 cellulose content generally also is …… YADA, YADA, YADA

Gringojay, are you not assuming that the herbivore dinosaur’s digestive system ……. functioned identical to present day “ruminate” herbivore’s digestive system? Iffen it was a “ruminant” system, ….. the birds didn’t inherit it, did they?

Who knows, maybe the herbivore dinosaur’s digestive system was akin to that of the Koala bear or Panda bear and when the angiosperms became the dominate plant species ……. ta dah.

Gringojay, I earned my AB in Biology many years ago, and being an “original thinker” ….. I don’t believe everything I read or am told …… just because someone claims to be an “expert” on the subject, no matter how many Degrees or Diplomas they have. It has to “pass” my test for “common sense thinking, logical reasoning and/or intelligent deduction”.

Reply to  Samuel C Cogar
December 1, 2019 10:18 am

@YADA , – Wouldn’t the higher protein to carbon ratio in lower CO2 growing plants actually favor ruminants?

The herbivore rumen empties faster when forage is lower in lignin & herbivore dinosaurs evolved under high CO2 , which partitions carbon in higher ratio to sugar/starch than lignin.

However, since high CO2 also decreases protein ratios in plants the microbial population (which work best with high protein) inside the rumen provides relatively lower digestibility of feed.

Meaning, that as CO2 decline the ratio of plant carbon to nitrogen content altered carbon partitioning to lignin increased & herbivore rumen efficiency improved.

I will add that just assuming ruminant dinosaurs had so much more herbaceous matter to eat because of high CO2 levels overlooks a feature of plants.

Hugh CO2 % increase in biomass is disproportionally represented by increased root growth, which presumably were a minor herbivore dinosaur food.

High CO2 also notably adds biomass in stem thickness (stem tissue is a “sink” for excessive sugar made under high CO2). I assume herbivore dinosaurs were probably eating some stems.

High CO2 does make for longer major vines, but not more numbers of separate vine shoots. Conceivably dinosaurs consumed too much of the main vines & this left them with a time lag before vine productivity recovered.

So, in the spirit of conjecture, I propose that: rather than lack of food, dinosaurs suffered from glucose intolerance; just like the modern miss fed fat horses.

To whit, they passed epigenetic modifications to successive generations which provoked a spectrum of health problems contributing to their demise … ah, if they could have only held on a few million years longer until angiosperms rocked the world.

Samuel C Cogar
Reply to  Samuel C Cogar
December 2, 2019 4:15 am

Gringo, instead of posting your weazelworded rhetoric to discredit my “dietary” hypothesis on the “rise & fall” of the dinosaurs, …… why don’t you explain to me how several species of dinosaurs managed to evolve to their great sizes and weights.

Gringo, we pretty much know why the “Blue whale” can grow to be up to 98 feet in length and a weight of 173 tonnes …. but we don’t know how the sauropod dinosaurs did it, to wit:

The sauropods were the largest and heaviest dinosaurs. For much of the dinosaur era, the smallest sauropods were larger than anything else in their habitat, and the largest were an order of magnitude more massive than anything else that has since walked the Earth. Giant prehistoric mammals such as Paraceratherium and Palaeoloxodon (the largest land mammals ever[8]) were dwarfed by the giant sauropods (around 40m long and weighed around 77 tonnes) and only modern whales surpass them in size.

There are several proposed advantages for the large size of sauropods, including protection from predation, reduction of energy use, and longevity, but it may be that the most important advantage was dietary. Large animals are more efficient at digestion than small animals, because food spends more time in their digestive systems. This also permits them to subsist on food with lower nutritive value than smaller animals. Sauropod remains are mostly found in rock formations interpreted as dry or seasonally dry, and the ability to eat large quantities of low-nutrient browse would have been advantageous in such environments.
Read more @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dinosaur_size

And Gringo, the last sentence in the above quote is not only quite silly, but utterly stupid, ….. simply because 99% of all fossils are “found in rock formations”. “DUH”, even fish fossils are “found in rock formations”.

Dodgy Geezer
November 30, 2019 5:10 am

Er…. we NEED CO2.

Plants eat it.

If they do not get enough, they die.

if plants die – we die.

They start dying around the 200ppm mark. At about 100ppm they will all go. For a long time we were around the 380ppm mark, and plant productivity was low. Our agriculture has improved considerably since we got up to the 400ppm mark.

If CO2 eating bacteria become successful, and get lose, I think that I can see the first way that we could kill off all life on Earth that I think might actually happen…

Jeff in Calgary
November 30, 2019 5:22 am

This is how life on earth ends.

Patrick MJD
November 30, 2019 5:31 am

More craziness ways thought up to waste money and time. The planet has been removing CO2 from the atmosphere for billions of years. Leave it alone, it knows what it is doing.

November 30, 2019 5:45 am

Don’t forget o pack up your monthly allotment of CO2 at the government dispensary for injection into your home heating system so you continue to breathe while sleeping. Day breathing reminders will come via shock collars that gently remind you to breathe.

Steve Keohane
November 30, 2019 5:49 am

The paper says the new E. Coli double population in 18 hours at 10% CO2 concentration,so even at that level they are starving, when normal E. Coli do so in 20 minutes. That’s 100,000ppm of CO2, not in the near future.

Reply to  Steve Keohane
November 30, 2019 7:12 am

It could be used in flue gas applications, etc. for sequestration.

Bruce Cobb
November 30, 2019 5:49 am

Oh for God’s sake, if you’re worried about “carbon”, just plant a tree. Boom. Done.
Someone should do a “proof of concept” on using unicorn farts for fuel. Step one; invent unicorn farts. That should be right up these biochemist’s alley.

michael hart
November 30, 2019 6:24 am

“What could go wrong?”

From our point of view I would say not much. From their point of view they will simply find themselves uncompetetive in the natural environment, the hardest school of hard knocks. They will find themselves competing with other organisms that have been consuming CO2 professionally for a living for hundreds of millions or billions of years.

Life forms engineered to do something as an amateur hobby usually get left on the starting grid without us to protect them. Consider modern domestic cows and sheep. Without humans to provide a protective environment for them they would probably all die out within a generation or two. They would need to change very quickly to adapt. Probably too quickly.

Bacteria etc have different mechanisms available: they will often just drop parts of their genome that don’t make them fitter for their environment.

The Dark Lord
November 30, 2019 6:27 am

Zombies … some scientists are doing their level best to try and create them … the only consolation is they will die first …

fear of plant food should be classified as a psych disorder …

Tom in Florida
November 30, 2019 6:31 am

Perhaps they should have concentrated on a methane eating E. coli. Fewer humans expelling methane would certainly improve the indoor air quality of many buildings.

Justin Burch
November 30, 2019 6:35 am

If this bug got loose it would have to outcompete the existing bugs out there in order to survive. With that 18 hour doubling time it would be screwed in the real world. I smell another “How can we cash in on all that grant money going to climate change in order to study our favourite bug?” scheme.

November 30, 2019 6:50 am

If this isn’t a hoax I will eat my hat. To convert carbon dioxide to energy containing organic molecules requires energy; light in the case of photosynthesis. The original article says the energy will be “gleaned from formate”. How will the formate to provide this energy be made?
This whole farrago contradicts the principle of the conservation of energy. The only thing they have got right is to use the correct singular noun “bacterium”.

November 30, 2019 6:53 am

Yes, enthalpy determines whether this is even possible. In the latest work, it appears that the energy comes from formate.

Patrick MJD
November 30, 2019 6:55 am

Oh dear…a proof of concept? Well ok…

“The work is a “milestone” and shows the power of melding engineering and evolution to improve natural processes, says Cheryl Kerfeld, a bioengineer at Michigan State University in East Lansing and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California.”

Melding? Surely you mean meddling with engineering and evolution to improve natural processes…blah blah blah.

Cheryl, where is this extra 9.96% CO2 going to come from for this PoC to work?

November 30, 2019 6:56 am

Now only if CO2 had anything detrimental to do with the atmosphere of the planet…
Perhaps this is an application looking for a solution to something – hey I know doesn’t Venus have an exorbitant amount of CO2?

Nicholas McGinley
November 30, 2019 7:36 am

Hey, I thought greens hate GMOs?
In this case, CO2 is only a fractional input, with the actual “food” being the pyruvate.
CO2 cannot be a food, strictly speaking, because you cannot get any energy from it.
It is already fully oxidized.
In plants, the actual food is sunlight, if we take good to mean source of energy.
CO2 is more like The raw material for plants.
We do not consider oxygen to be food for us, do we?
The reaction of pyruvate with CO2 should be very familiar with anyone who recalls first year biochemistry, or even high school level biochem: It occurs in microorganisms in a process called fermentation.
It is endothetmic, meaning energy must be added, in this case as a molecule of atp, along with the CO2, with the usual end product being ethanol. It will not react with CO2 under aerobic conditions because the favored reactions with O2 present is normal Kreb cycle oxidation which PRODUCES CO2!
So to grow these bacteria you need to prepare some pyruvate and also add another source of energy, and you wind up making something which is going to wind up oxidizing to CO2 eventually anyhow.
Basically you are reducing the CO2 partially via an energy intensive process which must be managed carefully in a specific environment:lots of pyruvate or purification acid, CO2 in high concentration, no or very little oxygen, and a source of a to which has to come from metabolizing something else.
It may be a technical masterpiece of genetic manipulation, but it is a rubegolbergian method at best for temporarily converting some CO2 into some other molecule which will be converted back to CO2 unless it is somehow sequestered and stored away somewhere forever.
Oh and which btw used up far more everyman can be recovered, and requires an ongoing industrial chemical synthesis to be sustained.
There ain’t no pyruvate lakes lying around to just toss some of these bugs into so they can soak up some CO2.
Pyruvate is a common intermediate because it is so reactive u see so many sorts of conditions. As such it exists in cells for a tiny moment before becoming something else.
So I do not see this becoming some Frankenstein or zombie apocalypse nightmare. More likely it would immediately due outside of a lab or other place designed just for it.
This may be the dumbest “cure ” for global warming since tree shaped industrial reactors were thought experimented into existence.
As noted aboce, we already got CO2 absorption covered, using completely natural solar powered devices that are self replicating cover the Earth in vast profusion, look beautiful, taste great, can be used for building materials, nutritional supplies for every thing in Earth, decorations , soil stabilizers, oxygen factories, shading homes and streets, absorbing excess soil moisture, atmospheric humidification (which moderates global temperatures exceedingly well), and all manner of other great feats of Chemical Festivus Strength.
Now, with yet another civilization ending crisis averted, time to go up to the attic and dig out my Festivus Pole.
Great strength to weight ratio!

Reply to  Nicholas McGinley
November 30, 2019 8:58 am


Reply to  Nicholas McGinley
November 30, 2019 5:18 pm

Hi N. McGinley, – “… no lakes of pyruvate …” was also my immediate take on the original post’s project practicality. Well it seems pyruvate can be obtained secreted in media from at least 1 strain of algae, namely a Sphingomonas strain “A” ( with it’s particular plasmid). As per (2014) “Bacterial pyruvate production from alginate … “; originally published in Journal of Bioscience & Bioengineering, 117(3) & available on-line as free full text.

The media (“lake”) is yeast extract plus some nutrients [0.1% of each of the following (NH4)2SO4 & KH2PO4 & Na2HPO4 & MgSO4]. Maximum pyruvate production rate was when 5% alginate (by weight/volume) is put in this media, inoculated (w/strain
“A”) & subsequently aerated.

After 2-3 days in bio-reactor the S. strain “A” no longer metabolizes the alginate. Still, what is noteworthy is that this method does not require glucose to make pyruvate & the alginate substrate is naturally abundant.

Yeast extract is not difficult to prepare & yeast reproduce well enough. I have not calculated whether all the ancillary ingredient costs make this unreasonably expensive once add in original post’s tactical method.

D. Anderson
November 30, 2019 7:51 am

Nice “End of the World” scenario.

November 30, 2019 8:28 am

Did some work with companies working on genetically engineering bacteria, none of them could survive outside of an in-vitro environment, they were attacked and destroyed by natures darwinian evolved bacteria, it’s a dog eat dog world out there in microbe land.

This is just a good way to get funding from the greedy dumb green blob investors.

November 30, 2019 8:54 am

that sounds like the craziest most irresponsible thing one could possibly conceive
yup, angela mooooerkels germans at it to destroy the world again

ja but we haf closed ze door and windows of ze building you know, ja

November 30, 2019 12:49 pm

The ecoli that they transform into insulin has not escape and caused massive insulin shock. I think people read way, way to much science fiction and not enough science.

(Nor has it caused the zombie apocalypse, a Frankenstein monster, or any other science fi idea. Sorry, it just doesn’t work that way.)

Steve Borodin
November 30, 2019 1:06 pm

How many E. coli do you need to outcompete plants. And when the plants go what do we eat? E. coli soup anyone?

November 30, 2019 1:09 pm

The link to the “proof of concept paper” just goes to an article. The paper is here. It isn’t really as described. The reducing substrate is formate. This is oxidised to CO2. In the process, it reduces other CO2, which it uses for biomass. It isn’t clear what the net absorption of CO2, if any, is. And of course a large scale supply of formate isn’t obvious.

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  Nick Stokes
December 1, 2019 7:22 am

The header article is not a very good summary.
Reading more about this, it turns out these e coli need 100,000 ppm of CO2, and formate.
Once you have made concentrated CO2, why try to feed it to bacteria to get rid of it or make fuel?
And yes the formate needs to be manufactured as well.
So two separate highly expensive industrial manufacturing processes just to keep some very slowly reproducing bacteria alive?
This project is about genetic modifications, not CO2.
Making the 100,000 ppm CO2 is how to get rid of it, if you want to spend money to do that.
They are hoping the bacteria will somehow evolve to live in ambient CO2, but this seems to be incredibly wishful and ignorant thinking.
A careful read reveals these bugs will just eat sugar if there is any.
If course they will, if still able…because there is energy to be had in sugar.

November 30, 2019 1:12 pm

and could potentially remove the gas from the air. 

So potential extinction of all life.
Where’s Greta

Windy Wilson
November 30, 2019 1:35 pm

Isn’t this proposal coming from the same people who demonstrate outside grocery stores because of GMO foods? Now they want to GM the bacteria in our guts? The people they revere as scientists could no more predict what would happen when Rabbits were introduced onto a continent where they had no known predators, or what would happen when certain wasps or other insects are introduced? First let’s get the problem of Kudzu (google it if it’s an unfamiliar word) under control if cured is too ambitious.

Reply to  Windy Wilson
November 30, 2019 1:37 pm

“Isn’t this proposal coming from the same people who demonstrate outside grocery stores because of GMO foods?”

Scott W Bennett
Reply to  Nick Stokes
December 1, 2019 3:45 am

No but it is brought to you by the same team that attempted to reinvent the wheel.*

*More than 500 species of protist have been identified in Antarctic waters, ~350 of which are phytoplankton and ~150 microheterotrophs (Scott and Marchant, 2005).

Cliff Hilton
November 30, 2019 6:23 pm

I get real tired of reading all the snide remarks about folks who write and promote such idiotic solutions to reducing CO2 in our robust atmosphere. Do you ever tire of it?

You make fun of these deceitful soul without mercy. Leave them alone. What haven’t they tried to do to you?

Yes, they all have wasted grant money’s and private as well. All along, wasting electricity in the labs, flying in planes, trains and automobiles.

For goodness sake, leave the simple alone.

It is the season.

November 30, 2019 9:57 pm

How the hell do they turn this off when it achieves the design goal, what ever that might be?

Ralph Gardner
December 1, 2019 9:21 pm

We have more CO2 in the atmosphere every year because more people are able to buy products that use electricity and cars and the like.

Gene Walker
December 2, 2019 7:38 am

The biologists have engineered an E. Coli strain to fix CO2 by utilizing formate (CO2H2) which produces CO2 as a byproduct! The process is CO2 neutral except the CO2 and heat required to produce the formate substrate.

Johann Wundersamer
December 4, 2019 8:14 am

Much ado about nothing.

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