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.
Harvard Medical School biologist Pamela Silver presented an interesting bit of research in which she injected fluorescently labeled cyanobacteria -- those microbes responsible for nearly 50 percent of Earth's photosynthesis and life as we know it -- into zebrafish embryos.
Zebrafish are clear, making them good test candidates for this kind of research. And what the researchers observed was quite interesting: absolutely nothing. The fish tolerated the cyanobacteria very well, and both the fish and the bacteria thrived and grew -- you can see the cyanobacteria living inside the embryos in the whimsically scored video here.
The cyanobacteria alone did not generate enough energy to sustain the embryos, but the fact that both fish and bacteria survived symbiotically is pretty amazing, and the team is working on methods to increase the cyanobacteria production.
Does that mean we'll soon be engineering photosynthetic animals, or even humans? It's none too likely anytime soon, as nice as sunning for your daily bread might sound. But whenever modern science tangles with the stuff of sci-fi, it's always fun to ponder the possibilities.
For people, probably useless - for livestock, incredible. Particularly for pork, the ability to reduce feed cost even a fraction through the introduction of sunlight would greatly reduce the cost of one of the world's most consumed meats.
Reminds me of green aliens in Star Trek.
I disagree with Oakspar77777. If photosynthesis were implemented in humans it would probably have practical uses in the military.
I Wonder if people who lived in sun drenched areas such as LA or Texas would all become sunlight fatties
lax4ever1 beat me to it- all these people would go to the beach to get a tan, and come back fat and diabetic!
Interesting! If this were implemented would it lead to say a flounder being more efficient than other types of fish or lead to adaptations that would be better for catching sunlight instead of food?
@credendo - And in humans, if this gene passes from generation to generation we will all evolve into Frisbees.
We wouldn't necessarily have to use these things 24/7, but having a needle full of them for emergency situations (ie stocked on ocean life-rafts) is an intriguing thought.
Even if it were possible for it to produce some sort of sustenance for our bodies, it would probably still not provide the variety of nutrients we need to survive. Even if we could get these things to produce vitamins A, C, K, proteins, fats, and everything else our diets are at least supposed to have, we would have to make sure they were producing the proper amounts. They will more likely just produce some bulk food and we will be living on a daily regimen of pills for everything else. With how much energy our bodies use though, it will probably only provide enough food for our bodies to keep us from starving to death but we will still need other food to keep up healthy body weights. If we continue down this path I would prefer to leave it to the animals, but my mind is always up for change, so we shall see.
I don't think it's necessary for normal people. but for anorexic people or others who need food but can't get any it's amazing!
and also the song on the video is so funny!
photosynthesis, as i recall: 6CO2+6H2O = C6H12O6 + 6 O2
our respiration would be more efficient in the sunlight but we would require more water, and we'd still have to eat something for our vitamins and minerals/nutrients.
i have always wanted to experiment with certain types of plant DNA's effect in humans though. i would probably test on human cells (my own) in a petri dish first, then when i found something desirable, i would test on myself. i am thinking protein synthesis and medicine synthesis in humans, possibly with sunlight. i also think something along these lines could fix diabetics, etc. i wouldn't hybridize myself with potatoes or anything. i think that would be a bad idea, ending up either very fat or with tuber-tumors.
plus i wouldnt want to grow thorns or have plants growing off me, leeching my energy. plants are too fragile to be mounted on humans. i wouldnt want to eat or smoke anything that grew off of a human either.
but say we did some research and took medical cannabis to the next level. people would get pissed, because they wouldnt get to grow it to smoke/eat anymore once they'd received their shot that made their bodies naturally produce the medicine, steroids, etc that cannabis produces. but for this to work, decarboxylation must take place to convert thc acids into thc. maybe this would naturally occur via metabolism.. we won't know until we see how plant genes are decoded in human cells. then we will know: do they do what they did for plants, or something else, and do they harm us? i would like to see how plants handle human DNA and how humans handle plant DNA. i think something good would come of it. i wouldnt mind growing air roots under my armpits, in which case i would absorb water and nutrients while swimming, lol ok this is getting pretty half baked. say i swim too long, the roots are overwatered, and i have to shave them off. i dont really expect anyone to ever grow roots from their armpits, i'm just saying i am interested in the effects of DNA from one living thing in another. like Dr. Curt Connors, The Lizard. life-changing cures, or hellish abominations, that is the question(minus a ?).
in the case of the type of diabetics who get dangerously low blood sugar levels, if they could perform photosynthesis, put them in the sun, throw some water on them, they'll wake up!
interesting, being able to absorb energy from the sun and your body convert it into usable energy for yourself..wow, i know its not possible for us..but just think of the possibilities..no need to seed/grow/harvest/ship/store food..just an hour outside to recharge your "batteries" so to speak and boom, youre good for a day..or even just under a special uv lamp or something in your bedroom before going to work
@swedekind I doubt many soldiers are going to lay out in the sun basking without all their gear on. But there are 3 billion pigs, and 1.3 billion cows in the world. That's a lot of mouths to feed. And lots of them just sit out in the sun all day.
In regards to the stuff about type I diabetes, my brother has it, though I don't think he'd like being green much.
I have thought about this before though... Photosynthesis occurs almost entirely inside the chloroplasts, and if our bodies can live symbiotically with mitochondria, some modified chloroplasts would probably survive inside our cells. Of course, it would be necessary to make sure that it was only in skin, but still...
The digestive system is outrageously energy consumptive, sucking up something like 40% of all energy generated (another 40% or so goes to the brain, leaving everything else with around 20%), so making your own food would be convenient. After all, when people starve, the first organ system to shut down is the digestive because it drains so much energy and in their case obviously isn't being used.
In regards to those who think that this wouldn't make enough energy for you, it might not be enough for everything, but you'd need vitamins and whatnot anyways, so I'd just say use something resembling an insulin pump to inject you with aqueous vitamins, minerals, and the remaining required glucose.