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Scientists say deep-sea bacteria could neutralize CO2

"The fact that it has such a high thermal stability makes it a good candidate for further study," said researcher Robert McKenna.
By Brooks Hays   |   Oct. 23, 2015 at 12:09 PM

GAINESVILLE, Fla., Oct. 23 (UPI) -- Scientists say a unique enzyme-producing bacterium, found deep below the ocean surface, could help neutralize greenhouse gas pollution.

On the floor of the deep ocean are hydrothermal vents. Relative to the cold darkness of the deep sea floor, life flourishes around these vents. Here lives Thiomicrospira crunogena, a bacterium that makes an enzyme called carbonic anhydrase.

Carbonic anhydrase removes carbon dioxide in organisms, turning CO2 and water into bicarbonate. It's already used in industrial carbon capturing processes, but its efficacy is limited. That's why researchers at the University of Florida are excited about their newly-discovered deep-sea bacteria.

Living among the warm, gaseous environs of hyrdothermal vents makes T. crunogena and its enzyme uniquely adapted to live inside an industrial smoke stack.

"This little critter has evolved to deal with those extreme temperature and pressure problems. It has already adapted to some of the conditions it would face in an industrial setting," Robert McKenna, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Florida's College of Medicine, explained in a press release.

McKenna is the lead author of a new paper on the enzyme, published this week in the journal Acta Crystallographica D.

Researchers think the enzyme could be suspended in a solvent and installed as a filter inside a flue or exhaust pipe. But for such technology to work, scientists need a lot of the enzyme.

McKenna and his colleagues have found a way to synthesize the enzyme in the lab using E. coli bacteria, avoiding the long trip to the bottom of the ocean and back. There efforts have so far produced several milligrams of the carbonic anhydrase. Much more will be needed if the enzyme is to be employed on the industrial scale.

While the bacterium's carbon-conversion rate isn't all that efficient, researchers are hopeful they'll be able to improve the biotechnology with further testing.

"You want it to do the reaction faster and more efficiently," said Avni Bhatt, a graduate research assistant working with McKenna. "The fact that it has such a high thermal stability makes it a good candidate for further study."

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