It all started in the compost heap…

It’s not every day you look in a compost heap and find a bug which might help save the planet.

The story begins in the 1970’s when a promising young scientist called Tony Atkinson was working on high temperature loving (thermophilic) bacteria that he had discovered living in a compost heap. He noted that some of these thermophiles would occasionally produce a little ethanol. He published these observations in 1975 in the journal Biotechnology and Bioengineering where, with considerable foresight, he concluded that strains like these might be extremely valuable in the conversion of waste to ethanol.

Fast forward 40 years and we can now view hundreds of these great little bacteria through a microscope and see them busy, on the move and sure enough churning out ethanol. Granted each is little more than 2% of the thickness of a human hair, but collectively they hold a potential of enormous global significance.

Essentially these little critters turn everyday rubbish into ethanol. And the bug, called TM242, licks its lips at a wide range of seemingly unappetising titbits, from rotten food to waste paper, grass and all sorts of leftovers from agriculture and industry.

Back in the compost heap, TM242 would normally be producing lactic acid, but we modified the inner workings of the bacterium so that when it eats complex carbohydrates, the by-product is valuable ethanol instead. The rest isn’t just history, we are making history and our leaps in development of TM242 will change the way we power the world.