How to Train Your Bacterium

bacterium

Berkeley Lab researchers are using M. thermoacetica to perform photosynthesis – despite being non-photosynthetic – and also to synthesize semiconductor nanoparticles in a hybrid artificial photosynthesis system for converting sunlight into valuable chemical products.

“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,” says Peidong Yang, a chemist with Berkeley Lab’s sciences-division/” title=”View all articles about Materials Sciences Division here”>Materials Sciences Division, who led this work.

K. K. Sakimoto, A. B. Wong, P. Yang. Self-photosensitization of nonphotosynthetic bacteria for solar-to-chemical production. Science, 2015; 351 (6268): 74 DOI10.1126/science.aad3317

The bacterium Moorella thermoacetica is being used to perform photosynthesis and also to synthesize semiconductor nanoparticles in a hybrid artificial photosynthesis system for converting sunlight into valuable chemical products. Credit: Peidong Yang, Berkeley Lab/UC Berkeley

Here’s an exciting breakthrough in renewable energy: the development of a “synthetic leaf.” Picture a tiny chip that can mimic the natural photosynthesis process to produce other useful chemical products.

In their research, UC Berkeley scientists successfully used bacteria as a biological catalyst to turn water, carbon dioxide and sunlight into acetate that can be used to make biodegradable plastic and methane that can be used as fuel.

Chemist Peidong Yang says that their current system works very well, but bacteria don’t have a long shelf life. So their hope is to learn more about how the bacteria work and eventually design a better synthetic catalyst.