Most news these days that involve the climate, climate change and any related conversation about science leaves one feeling pretty dismal. Well, if you actually believe in science that is. But today we get to talk about a recent development that was all science and is pretty much all amazing. If you haven’t already forgotten your earth science studies as a younger person you remember that photosynthesis is how plants transform energy from the sun into the transformation of carbon molecules. This means growth via transformation from the sun’s energy. What if we could design bacteria in a lab that were more efficient than nature’s designs so far? What if we could further design said bacteria to create things from this process, like fuel or plastics? Way, way cool.
GROW A BUILDING, A ROAD, STEEL, SPECIALIZED MATERIALS? THE FUTURE IS RICH IN POSSIBILITY
If it’s still a nebulous idea, then imagine if we could grow a building? That’s a far-off scenario for now, but the first step has been taken along that road. Once you open the door to design bacteria to grow something (just like a plant, but better), then imagination and the limits of our current research are a snowball that will just get bigger and bigger.
The researchers essentially just introduced Moorella thermoacetica to a cadmium salt and amino acid, cysteine. The bacteria combine the sulfur atoms in the cysteine with the cadmium to create little light absorbers, cadmium sulfide. M. thermoacetica normally creates acetic acid from carbon dioxide through its own respiratory process. But the cadmium sulfide they made in the experiment allowed them to supercharge the acetic acid production process using energy harvested from the sunlight. The team presented their creations at the 254th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) this week.
PROJECT SHOWS APPROACH MORE ENERGY EFFICIENT THAN PLANTS THEMSELVES
Probably most importantly, the scientists report that these nanocrystals were more efficient than chlorophyll, the molecule plants usually use as their solar panels. The results are obviously cool, but the researchers told the BBC that others are devising synthetic photosynthetic systems and their bacteria might not be the winning option. “There are so many different designs of these systems coming out and really we’ve only begun to explore the different ways we can combine chemistry and biology,” Kelsey Sakimoto at Harvard University told them.
Additionally, as these are conference results, no one has yet had a chance to read a published paper or vet results with outside researchers, but we expect a paper will come out eventually. So, how do you feel about a future where chemical or fuel manufacturing plants look like huge containers of bacteria sitting in the Sun?