Meet the new synthetic photosynthesis that can absorb CO2 way faster than plants

Plants and Trees help to reduce 25 percent of our carbon emissions to produce fuel for itself during photosynthesis. But the problem is, nature’s system for doing this is quite slow and inefficient, but what if it could be boosted?  A new study from German researchers has developed a synthetic system to incorporate CO2 into organic compounds – called carbon fixation. This synthetic system is both dramatically faster than nature’s method and more energy efficient.


When plants absorb carbon during what’s known as the Calvin cycle – the second stage of photosynthesis – an enzyme called RuBisCO helps catalyze the reaction that turns CO2 into glucose, which plants use as an energy source.

Lead researcher Tobias Erb from the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology says that RuBisCO itself isn’t exactly quick, which holds the whole process up.

“RuBisCO is slow,” he told William Herkewitz at Popular Mechanics, adding that it’s also error-prone.

“[I]t backfires often, meaning about every fifth attempt RuBisCO will mix up CO2 with oxygen gas,” he explains, which further slows carbon absorption.

To find out the possibility for a better artificial system, Erb’s team sifted through a library of some 40,000 known enzymes from all walks of life.”Some enzymes are found in the human body, and gut bacteria,” he says, while others were sourced “from plants, and microbes that live in the oceans and on the surface of plants”.

From this massive catalogue, the researchers identified 17 different enzymes from 9 different organisms and engineered them into a new 11-step system that effectively recreates the Calvin cycle – but with superior results.

These enzymes, which belong to a group called ECRs, could pave the way for a new kind of organic carbon capture system that can be way more effective than the shrub on your window sill.

“ECRs are supercharged enzymes that are capable of fixing CO2 at the rate of nearly 20 times faster than the most widely prevalent CO2-fixing enzyme in nature, RuBisCo, which carries out the heavy lifting involved in photosynthesis,” Erb said in a press release.

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If scientists can find the way to incorporate this synthetic carbon fixation cycle into any CO2-absorbing organism, it might one day help remove those heat-trapping molecules from our atmosphere.

“This is an exciting outcome for systems biology, demonstrating that novel theoretical CO2 fixation pathways can indeed be realized,” plant biologist Lisa Ainsworth from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who was not part of the research, told Eva Botkin-Kowacki at The Christian Science Monitor.

“Whether this pathway or another novel pathway could be engineered into plants is an open question, but this research certainly advances the possibility.”

Watch this video to find out more about the research:

Source – Sciencemag.org

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