genetic engineering: microbes make missile fuel and medication

To help make safer and cheaper rocket fuel, the US military has enlisted some pretty small soldiers — bacteria. Funded by the Office of Naval Research, microbiologist John Frost of Michigan State University and his team reported in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society that they have modified the genes of E. coli and Pseudomonas fragi to allow them to manufacture the chemical butanetriol. Butanetriol is used to produce the rocket propellant BTTN, or butanetriol trinitrate, which is used in the Hellfire missile, among others. Navy scientists have been using less-expensive nitroglycerin, which is notoriously unstable, but the researchers hope that the new “bioproduction” method could keep costs down so that the safer butanetriol could begin to replace it in many applications. And butanetriol has more than just military uses: It is also a precursor to two cholesterol-lowering drugs. Stated Frost in a press release, “This is a classic example of dual use for molecules between pharmaceutical and defense applications.”

This news brief appeared in the Discoveries column of the Boston Globe’s Health/Science section on 2/10/2004.
This entry was posted in boston globe, news briefs. Bookmark the permalink.