By Allison Rudd on Tue, 22 Jul 2008
University of Otago | News: Dunedin

University of Otago researcher Dr Tina Summerfield examines 
bacteria, which could potentially be used to power homes and cars, 
multiplying in a temperature-controlled growth room. Photo by 
Craig Baxter. Microscopic green bacteria found almost everywhere 
could one day be used to power the world, and University of Otago 
researcher Dr Tina Summerfield is helping bring that idea closer 
to reality.
The bacteria grow using solar energy, light and carbon dioxide and 
produce hydrogen and ethanol, biofuels which are already being 
used as power sources.

Researchers around the world are perfecting ways to grow the 
bacteria in large enough quantities to produce commercial amounts 
of biofuels.

Dr Summerfield (37) has received a $264,000 Foundation for 
Research, Science and Technology postdoctoral fellowship, enabling 
her to spend the next three years recording which of New Zealand's 
many varieties of bacteria grow most quickly and best, and which 
produce the most amounts of hydrogen or ethanol.

She said yesterday it was too early to say whether bacteria could 
be used as a source of clean and renewable energy, but that their 
potential was untapped.

"I feel lucky to have been given a grant to study something I 
really enjoy, and something which could potentially be really 

"The beauty of it is bacteria don't have to be grown on 
agricultural land like corn or other crops used to create biofuels 
- all you need is clear plastic tubes, light or heat, phosphate 
fertiliser and water.

''The water does not have to be clean.

''Some people are experimenting with using grey water from 
sewerage treatment plants."

Dr Summerfield is one of 14 researchers awarded fellowships 

Each receives $264,000 for a three-year project.

Two other fellowships went to Otago researchers.

Dr Ashton Bradley will return from Australia to work at the 
internationally recognised Jack Dodd Centre for Quantum 
Technology, carrying out theoretical investigations into some 
as-yet uncharted areas of atomic physics.

One of his major roles will be training students in quantum 
technology techniques.

Dr Christina McGraw will study the impact seawater becoming more 
acidic has on marine organisms of economic importance to New 
Zealand such as oysters, green-lipped mussels and paua, and those 
organisms' abilities to adapt to changing ocean conditions.

The other fellowship recipients were Pascale Michel (Landcare 
Research); Hema Nair (University of Canterbury); Gayle Ferguson 
and Monica Gerth (Massey University); James Russell (University of 
California); Peng Cao (University of Waikato); Jessica Costa, Jim 
Lee and Lijuan Zhang (University of Auckland); Lincoln Tubbs 
(University of Guelph, Canada); and Nicholas van Panhuys (National 
Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, United States).