Solar Energy Can Be Harvested by Cyborg Bacteria to Produce Fuel

Cyborg bacteria has been created by scientists—microbes coated with small, highly proficient solar panels—which are superior to plants at capturing the Sun’s energy to generate energy from water and carbon dioxide. Photosynthesis gives energy for life on Earth. Nonetheless, the green pigment, chlorophyll that plants utilize to capture sunlight, is comparatively inefficient.

To allow humans to harvest more of the energy of the Sun than possible with natural photosynthesis, a research team has prepared bacteria to enclose themselves in small, highly efficient solar panels to generate useful compounds. Kelsey K Sakimoto from the University of California said, “Instead of depending on the inefficient chlorophyll to capture sunlight, I have trained bacteria how to develop and envelop their bodies with small semiconductor nanocrystals.”

Sakimoto further added, “These nanocrystals are much more competent in comparison to chlorophyll and can be grown at a portion of the price of manufactured solar panels.” Increasingly, humans are in search of energy sources and feed stocks for chemical production that can be used as alternatives to fossil fuels. Several scientists have been functioning to make artificial photosynthetic systems to produce simple organic chemicals and renewable energy using sunlight. Development has been made, but the set-ups are not resourceful enough for viable production of feedstock and fuels.

The new study concentrates on exploiting inorganic semiconductors that can harvest sunlight to organisms (bacteria), which in turn can then utilize this energy to generate useful chemicals from water and carbon dioxide. The team functioned with a nonphotosynthetic, naturally occurring bacterium—Moorella thermoacetica—that as a fraction of its normal respiration generates acetic acid from CO2.

Acetic acid is a multi-purpose chemical that can be voluntarily advanced to a number of pharmaceuticals, polymers, fuels, and commodity chemicals via complementary, genetically engineered bacteria. The team fed cysteine (amino acid) and cadmium to the bacteria, which synthesize the cadmium sulfide (CdS) nanoparticles. These nanoparticles work as solar panels on their exteriors.

M thermoacetica–CdS, the hybrid organism, generates acetic acid from water, light, and carbon dioxide. Sakimoto said, “Once coated with these small solar panels, the hybrid bacteria can produce food, plastics, and fuels—all using solar energy. These bacteria do better than natural photosynthesis.” The bacteria function at an efficiency of above 80%, and the procedure is self-regenerating and self-replicating, thus making it a zero-waste technology.

Sakimoto further added, “Synthetic biology and the capacity to extend the product scope of carbon dioxide reduction will be vital to posing this technique as a substitute, or one of the several substitutes, for the petrochemical industry.”

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