Researchers teach bacterium how to photosynthesize

"Our hybrid system combines the best of both worlds," said researcher Peidong Yang.
By Brooks Hays  |  Jan. 4, 2016 at 11:46 AM
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BERKELEY, Calif., Jan. 4 (UPI) -- For the first time, researchers have trained a non-photosynthetic baterium to perform photosynthesis. Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks?

The bacterium is Moorella thermoacetica, and scientists have found a way to incorporate it into a hybrid artificial photosynthesis system capable of synthesizing valuable chemical products. Researchers gifted the bacterium light-harvesting powers by integrating cadmium sulfide nanoparticles.

"We've demonstrated the first self-photosensitization of a non-photosynthetic bacterium, M. thermoacetica, with cadmium sulfide nanoparticles to produce acetic acid from carbon dioxide at efficiencies and yield that are comparable to or may even exceed the capabilities of natural photosynthesis," lead researcher Peidong Yang, a chemist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said in a press release.

Cadmium sulfide is an efficient semiconductor, making it an ideal harvester of light. By coupling it with the bioreplication abilities of M. thermoacetica, researchers created an efficient hybridized chemical production system.

Chemical products like acetic acid are currently harvested from petroleum, mostly for use in fuels and plastics. But researchers have been looking for new, more sustainable ways to harvest similar chemical products.

Artificial photosynthetic technologies -- like the latest system, detailed in the journal Science -- offer a promising way forward.

"Our hybrid system combines the best of both worlds: the light-harvesting capabilities of semiconductors with the catalytic power of biology," Yang explained. "In this study, we've demonstrated not only that biomaterials can be of sufficient quality to carry out useful photochemistry, but that in some ways they may be even more advantageous in biological applications."

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