Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Human-made photosynthesis to revolutionize food and energy production

Date:
February 17, 2012
Source:
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
Summary:
Improving natural photosynthesis to make new fuels and boost crop production is the focus of new research. It could see us one step closer to bottling the sun's energy or turbocharging plants to produce bumper crops.

Improving natural photosynthesis to make new fuels and boost crop production is the focus of new research. It could see us one step closer to bottling the sun's energy or turbocharging plants to produce bumper crops.
Credit: Lizard / Fotolia

Improving natural photosynthesis to make new fuels and boost crop production is the focus of Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) funded research presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting February 17. It could see us one step closer to bottling the sun's energy or turbocharging plants to produce bumper crops.

Photosynthesis allows biological systems to take energy from the sun and use it to produce food and fuel. It is one of the most important biological processes on earth but it's not as efficient as it could be. Natural trade-offs results in less than 1% efficiency in many important crops and so there is significant scope for improvement.

Scientists from the UK and US are working to engineer or enhance photosynthesis to benefit food and fuel production.

Professor Douglas Kell, Chief Executive of BBRSC, explains why funding this research is vital: "We are facing global challenges in food and energy security that must be addressed. Improving photosynthesis within plants, or externally using synthetic biology, would bring huge benefits."

The artificial 'leaf'

Professor Richard Cogdell from the University of Glasgow is taking a synthetic biology approach in a bid to create an artificial 'leaf' capable of converting the sun's energy to liquid fuel.

Professor Cogdell explains: "The sun gives its energy away for free but making use of it is tricky. We can use solar panels to make electricity but it's intermittent and difficult to store. What we are trying to do is take the energy from the sun and trap it so that it can be used when it is needed most."

The researchers hope to use a chemical reaction similar to photosynthesis but in an artificial system. Plants take solar energy, concentrate it and use it to split apart water into hydrogen and oxygen. The oxygen is released and the hydrogen is locked into a fuel. The latest research aims to use synthetic biology to replicate the process.

Professor Cogdell added: "We are working to devise an analogous robust chemical system that could replicate photosynthesis artificially on a grand scale. This artificial leaf would create solar collectors that produce a fuel, as opposed to electricity."

The artificial system could also improve on natural photosynthesis to make better use of the sun's energy. By stripping back photosynthesis to a level of basic reactions, much higher levels of energy conversion could be possible.

Ultimately, success in this research could allow the development of a sustainable carbon neutral economy arresting the increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere from fossil fuel burning.

'Turbocharging' photosynthesis

Professor Howard Griffiths, University of Cambridge, is also hoping to enhance the potential of photosynthesis by focusing on an enzyme called RuBisCO (Ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase oxygenase). It's a key enzyme in photosynthesis that allows plants to use atmospheric carbon dioxide to create energy-rich molecules, such as simple sugars.

Some plants have evolved mechanisms that act like biological turbochargers to concentrate carbon dioxide around the enzyme for optimal photosynthesis. This boosts growth and production. Professor Griffiths' research is developing a deeper understanding of these biological turbochargers so that they may one day be incorporated into crops to increase yields.

Professor Griffiths explains: "We want to improve the operating efficiency of RuBisCO in crops and we believe algae may one day provide the answer. Their turbocharger is contained within a structure called the algal pyrenoid which could be utilised in a crop's photosynthetic structures. By combining algal and plant photosynthesis to improve photosynthetic efficiency we would see an increase in agricultural productivity for the production of food and renewable energy."

Capturing 'wasted' solar energy

Professor Anne Jones from Arizona State University is looking at other ways to ensure the sun's energy is not wasted.

Cyanobacteria (bacteria that get their energy from photosynthesis) can absorb much more solar energy than they can utilize. Professor Jones's research seeks to develop a mechanism to take advantage of this excess, wasted energy by transferring it to a fuel-producing cell.

Professor Jones said: "We want to couple the photosynthetic apparatus in one bacterial species to the fuel-producing metabolism of a second species. We could then funnel excess energy directly into fuel production. It would see two biological systems working together to make fuel from the sun's energy."

A simple analogy is a power station that isn't connected to the distribution grid. Unconnected, the excess energy goes to waste. The researchers hope to create a connection that will transfer this energy to make fuel. This connection could be provided by hair-like electrically conductive filaments called pili.

Professor Jones explains: "Certain bacteria naturally grow conductive filaments called pili. These pili could be exploited to transfer energy between the cells we want to use."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. "Human-made photosynthesis to revolutionize food and energy production." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 February 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120217145755.htm>.
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. (2012, February 17). Human-made photosynthesis to revolutionize food and energy production. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 16, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120217145755.htm
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. "Human-made photosynthesis to revolutionize food and energy production." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120217145755.htm (accessed April 16, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

How Mt. Everest Helped Scientists Research Diabetes

How Mt. Everest Helped Scientists Research Diabetes

Newsy (Apr. 15, 2014) British researchers were able to use Mount Everest's low altitudes to study insulin resistance. They hope to find ways to treat diabetes. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Walking, Talking Oil-Drigging Rig

The Walking, Talking Oil-Drigging Rig

Reuters - Business Video Online (Apr. 15, 2014) Pennsylvania-based Schramm is incorporating modern technology in its next generation oil-drigging rigs, making them smaller, safer and smarter. Ernest Scheyder reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
In Washington, a Push to Sterilize Stray Cats

In Washington, a Push to Sterilize Stray Cats

AFP (Apr. 14, 2014) To curb the growing numbers of feral cats in the US capital, the Washington Humane Society is encouraging residents to set traps and bring the animals to a sterilization clinic, after which they are released.. Duration: 02:29 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Dutch Highway Introduces Glow-In-The-Dark Paint

Dutch Highway Introduces Glow-In-The-Dark Paint

Newsy (Apr. 14, 2014) A Dutch highway has become the first lit by glow-in-the-dark paint — a project aimed at reducing street light use. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins