Scientists have been trying for a while now to recreate the process of photosynthesis, using sunlight and water to spark chemical reactions. Now a team from Penn State University has done one better, producing an engineered biological system that can produce a hydrogen biofuel twice as fast as nature.
Bacteria taken from the scrumptiously named fishing village of Beer on Britain's south coast have proven themselves some of the hardiest organisms on Earth -- or in space for that matter. Bacteria found in rocks taken from the cliffs at Beer have survived a grueling year-and-a-half exposure to space conditions on the exterior of the ISS and returned home alive, becoming the longest-lived photosynthesizing microbes to survive in space.
There are plenty of ways to cut down on your food intake -- you can observe the methods of fasting holy men, or perhaps toss back an appetite-suppressing hydrogel capsule -- but at last week's synthetic biology conference in Boston, one Harvard biologist presented a particularly novel idea: photosynthesis. It's not just for plants anymore.
We thought it was cool when a team of Arizona State researchers engineered genetic bombs that blow biofuel-producing cyanobacteria wide open, releasing their sweet fatty acids without intense chemical processing. But now those very same researchers have figured out how to get at those fatty acids in a far less violent manner: by genetically engineering cyanobacteria to secrete their fatty cargos directly through their cell walls.
Generating biofuels from bacteria would be easier and potentially more efficient than producing it from plant matter -- if it weren't for the energy-intensive chemical reactions needed to extract the fuel from the bacteria after they've manufactured it. But the most promising sources of bacterial fuel, like cyanobacteria, are wrapped in multiple layers of protective membranes that make it difficult to get at the fatty material.
It seemed like an ordinary day in the primordial ooze, but romance was in the methane-ammonia air. An amoeba, pseudopoding along as usual, met and was enchanted by a particularly lovely photosynthetic bacterium. He took her inside his cell membrane, but instead of digesting her as he first planned, the two fused into a single organism. The bacterium gave the amoeba the new ability to absorb energy from sunlight, and their descendants became every plant in the world.