Solar energy is great. But let us be honest hydrogen is quite a lot more practical in a lot more ways. So, what if we combined them and make hydrogen with photosynthesis.
The price of solar energy keeps getting lower and its power output keeps growing. But it still isn't anywhere near to being able to provide clean energy for everyone. The biggest problem is the fact that solar energy is still dependent on storing energy which still very far from being practically usable at a large scale.
These and other problems are the reason why there is a large demand for technologies that can transform the easily available solar energy into energetically rich fuel that can be easily stored or even directly used. One of these fuels is hydrogen.
But, what is the best way to get hydrogen out of solar energy? A team of German biotechnologists recently used a time-proven technology that photosynthetic organisms use. They bio-hacked some cyanobacteria and adapted their photosynthetic organelles to produce a large amount of hydrogen when exposed to sunlight.
Kirstin Gutekunst and her coworkers played with the photosynthetic proteins of single-cell cyanobacteria Synechocystic sp. PCC 6803. They added a NiFe-hydrogenase Hox-YH to the core photosynthetic module of the cyanobacteria to create a complex that can create hydrogen. Hydrogenases are enzymes that catalyze oxides of molecular hydrogen in both ways. When you properly set the activity of the module then it becomes a great nanomachine that creates a lot of hydrogen.
The researchers introduced this incredible enzymatic complex into the cyanobacteria and replaced the original photosynthetic system. The result is that the modified cyanobacteria grow and work. They do grow much slower than regular cyanobacteria but that was to be expected as making the hydrogen takes away energy and resources from the cyanobacteria that could have been used for growth.
Similar experiments with photosynthetic making of hydrogen are usually conducted with isolated photosystems with added hydrogenases. The problem is that such a laboratory system only had a short lifespan as the chemical processes soon destroy them and they have no cellular maintenance. The German team managed to do it with living cyanobacteria.
The hacked cyanobacteria produced the largest amount of hydrogen we have ever seen from similar technologies. And they managed to make it for hours at a time. So, maybe we will see cyanobacteria based GMO energy.
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