Story in the College of Arts & Sciences
The study of aquatic bacteria helps biology professor develop a new kind of biofuel.
Associate Professor of Biology Craig Stephens did not set out to help the biofuels industry. He began studying an aquatic bacterium called Caulobacter crescentus years ago to better understand its unique life cycle and highly efficient metabolism.
But it turns out that his work may help inform the developing biofuels industry.
The Director of the Combined Sciences Program, with assistance from students in his lab, has shown that Caulobacter crescentus genes are controlled by where the bacterium is and what it eats. And its genes suggest that it can break down plant cell walls to extract sugars—a distinctive quality that could be useful to the biofuels industry, which is looking for new ways to turn renewable biomass into energy.
Stephens says working with student researchers is a highlight of his job.
"There's only so much you can learn in the classroom," he says. "It's when students start doing experiments themselves that they really understand."
And he enjoys the thrill of discovery.
"When an experiment you designed gives you a real answer that you didn't know before—there's something addictive about that," he says.