Apr. 16, 1998 Scientists at Arizona State University have combined biology and electronics to create the world's first bionic photosynthetic energy system. Future applications of their technology could lead to multiple technological advancements and could help steer the economy of Maricopa County.
ASU chemists Ana Moore, Devens Gust and Thomas Moore; ASU postdoctoral students Gali Steinberg-Yfrach and Edgardo Durantini; and Jean-Louis Rigaud of the Curie Institute in Paris, France, have built a cell-like machine that mimics biological photosynthesis. Reported in Nature magazine April 2, the system duplicates the capture of light energy and harnesses this energy for human manipulation. The scientists made their breakthrough by using a spinach enzyme.
Nature reported that this scientific team "constructed an artificial membrane-based system that uses light to power the synthesis of ATP." ATP is a carrier of chemical energy in all living organisms.
The scientists devised a chemical system that pumps protons across a membrane from the outside of a cell to the inside. The pumping action creates an imbalance in proton concentration across the membrane, causing the protons to flow through a protein and generate biological energy.
Gust said, "The focus is on how to capture solar energy and convert it to a useful form in the same way that photosynthesis does. We are trying to see how far we can go in mimicking the way photosynthetic bacteria convert light energy into ATP chemical potential. Living organisms have been doing this for billions of years, but this is the first time humans have been able to get it to work."
Jonathan Fink, vice provost for research at ASU, said this technology has potential ramifications that rival the way 1960s research in semiconductors at Stanford University led to Silicon Valley and the way that optics research at the University of Arizona led to a thriving optics industry in southern Arizona.
"The photosynthesis research at ASU could help drive the 21st century economy of Maricopa County," Fink said.
The Moores, Gust and dozens of ASU students have experimented with artificial photosynthesis for 20 years. During the last 15 months, they have validated the ability to copy the process of capturing light energy, the first step in developing an artificial biological power system.
This new technology could potentially allow for the creation of biological computers and for the creation of new drugs. The ASU scientists are not in the computer or drug business, but future advancement of their basic research could enter computer, drug and many other arenas.
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