A team of researchers from Penn State University has taken one of nature's oldest processes — photosynthesis — and improved upon it. The researchers engineered a biological system that can produce a hydrogen biofuel twice as fast as the process happens naturally, reports Popular Science's Rebecca Boyle. "The system uses a molecular wire to facilitate fast movement of electrons between light-capturing enzymes, which are used to split water into molecular oxygen and hydrogen," Boyle says. "It could someday serve as a fast and reliable way to derive hydrogen for use in fuel cells." The group's paper, which appears in PNAS, shows that the researchers, working with bacteria called Synechococcus and Clostridium acetobutylicum, replaced the organisms' FNR enzyme — which helps store energy — with a hydrogenase enzyme, which makes molecular hydrogen. "The result was a high-throughput hydrogen-producing system — electron flow was more than twice as high as the bacteria's individual rates," Boyle says. As the system is adaptable to other organisms, it could be used to create large volumes of biofuels, she adds.
Better Than Nature?
Dec 22, 2011