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Introduction to the Field:

In light of the increasing dependence upon petroleum-based fuels, renewable biofuels have emerged as a viable source of clean energy in the industrialized world. Many biofuels, such as bioethanol produced from sugar cane, nevertheless contribute to green house gasses and require large-scale industries to maintain their production. Hydrogen gas on the other hand stands alone as a fuel that when reacted with oxygen in a fuel cell, results in the formation of pure water as its only byproduct. The advantages of hydrogen gas over the current fossil fuel system include decreased carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere as well as the lowest effective cost to society when coupled to solar powered sources (Veziroglu and Sahin 2008).

The lack of harmful byproducts produced from hydrogen fuel cells stands in stark contrast to the many different carcinogens and green house gases produced through the standard combustion engine. The iGEM team at UC Merced firmly believes that hydrogen gas is a viable alternative to petroleum based fuels, and that hydrogen gas can be utilized for a variety of industrial processes including hydrogen fuel cells for cars and fuel cells to power electric motors. In fact, the US Department of Energy published a paper titled A National Vision of America’s Transition to a Hydrogen Economy to 2030 and Beyond in 2002, foreshadowing the need for increased research into the nature of hydrogen as an viable alternative fuel source (US Department of Energy 2002).Hydrogen gas can be readily obtained from the widely available laboratory bacteria E. coli, which can be genetically engineered to produce hydrogen gas for industry.

The iGEM competition simplifies hydrogen gas production process through the use of BioBricks, which are double stranded DNA segments standardized for insertion into plasmids. This system allows for better reproducibility as well as innovation since BioBricks with different functions can be placed adjacent to one another to improve or modify a microbe's function. In our lab, we developed a BioBrick that enables E. coli to produce hydrogen gas more efficiently than before. We hope that the combination of this BioBrick with others will allow E. coli to produce hydrogen gas from abundant sources of biomass such as cellulose.

Impact of iGem:

Renewable energy resources are increasingly in demand. Current mechanical systems such as a combustion engine are not as efficient as biological systems such bacteria. Using biological systems as a template for mechanical systems may allow for a potentially efficient production of energy. Hydrogen has the greatest potential for clean, renewable energy because it produces only pure water emissions from a fuel cell. The UC Merced iGEM team hopes to impact the field of biofuels by producing hydrogen gas through E. coli using the dark fermentation pathway to increase hydrogen yield, thereby generating hydrogen through a renewable source that is widely available to any biological laboratory. This experiment aims to lessen the impact of greenhouse gasses by proving a potential renewable source of clean energy derived from bacteria.


US Department of Energy.A National Vision of America's Transition to a Hydrogen Economy—to 2030 and Beyond.US Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and RenewableEnergy, Washington, DC, February 2002.

Veziroglu TN and Sahin S. 2008.21st Century’s energy: Hydrogen energy system. Energy Conversion and Management 49 (2008) 1820–1831.