Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers said they used a modified virus as a kind of biological scaffold to assemble the nanoscale components needed to split a water molecule into hydrogen and oxygen atoms.
The scientists said splitting water is one way to solve the basic problem of solar energy: By using sunlight to make hydrogen from water, the hydrogen can then be stored and used at any time to generate electricity using a fuel cell, or to make liquid fuels (or be used directly) for cars and trucks.
The scientists, led by Professor Angela Belcher, said other researchers have made systems that use electricity provided by solar panels to split water molecules. But the new biologically based system skips the intermediate steps and uses sunlight to directly power the reaction.
The study that included Yoon Sung Nam, Andrew Magyar, Daeyeon Lee, Jin-Woong Kim, Dong Soo Yun, Heechul Park, Thomas Pollom Jr. and David Weitz is presented in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.