We often look to the smallest lifeforms for help in solving the biggest problems: Microbes help make foods and beverages, cure diseases, treat waste, and even clean up pollution. Yeast and bacteria can also convert plant sugars into biofuels and chemicals traditionally derived from fossil fuels — a key component of most plans to slow climate change. Now University of Wisconsin–Madison researchers have engineered bacteria that can produce two chemical products at the same time from underutilized plant fiber. And unlike humans, these multitasking microbes can do both things equally well. “To my knowledge, it’s one of the first times you can make two valuable products simultaneously in one microbe,” says Tim Donohue, PhD, UW–Madison Professor of Bacteriology and Director of the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC).
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