When we think of microbes, few if any good thoughts come to mind. But leave it up to the scientists at the MIT, and these microscopic organisms become a benefit to the environment.

With W.H. Dow Professor of Chemical Engineering Gregory Stephanopoulos and Assistant Professor Kristala Jones Prather at the helm, MIT sees bacteria as diverse and complex "chemical factories" that can revolutionize the production of biofuels and other compounds. Prather, for her part, is developing bacteria that can forge butanol and pentanol from agricultural byproducts, while Stephanopoulos is trying to make better microbial producers of biofuels by improving their fermented feedstock's toxicity tolerance.

But that's not all. The extent of bacteria's green gains goes much farther, says chemistry professor Catherine Drennan, who hopes to one day use it to soak up toxins such as carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide from the Earth's atmosphere. The microbes she found in various natural habitats actually break down harmful pollutants and could help remove them from Earth's lower atmosphere. "These bacteria are responsible for removing a lot of CO and CO2 from the environment," she said. "Can we use this chemistry to do the same thing?"

Learn more about MIT's green microbes here.