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Cyborg bacteria can now generate artificial photosynthesis

Scientists from Harvard University have created a cyborg bacteria that is capable of generating artificial photosynthesis. The bacteria uses tiny crystalline nanoparticles as solar panels to photosynthesize sunlight and generate useful chemicals.

These cybernetic bacteria also produced zero waste and could be used to generate compounds for fuels, plastics, and pharmaceuticals.

Dr. Kelsey Sakimoto and her research team from Harvard University and Berkeley used the bacterium known as Moorella thermoacetica, which consumes carbon dioxide to create acetic acid. The bacterium is not photosynthetic, but by feeding the bacteria both cadmium and cysteine, the bacterium transformed into a photosynthesizing machine.

Cysteine is an amino acid and cadmium is a chemical element, and once both were introduced to the bacteria, it created cadmium sulfide nanoparticles. Cadmium sulfide is known for its semi-conductive properties, so the bacteria used the nanoparticles as solar panels as the bacteria self-replicated, converted carbon dioxide, harvested sunlight, and generated acetic acid.

“The bacteria/inorganic-semiconductor hybrid artificial photosynthesis system we’ve created is self-replicating through the bio-precipitation of cadmium sulfide nanoparticles, which serve as the light harvester to sustain cellular metabolism,” said corresponding author Peidong Yang, a chemist from Berkeley.

This breakthrough in artificial photosynthesis could have huge implications in generating renewable energy and finding alternative fuel sources.

Sakimoto and her team aren’t the only ones exploring ways to harness photosynthesis, as creating efficient alternatives to the naturally occurring process could help produce sustainable, clean, and eco-friendly chemicals used in fuels and plastics. It could also help eliminate our dependency on petroleum.

This new development of cyborg bacteria could also be the first of the artificial photosynthesis attempts to be used outside of the lab with commercial applications.

“Our algal biofuels are much more attractive, as the whole CO2-to-chemical apparatus is self-contained and only requires a big vat out in the sun,” said Sakimoto.

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

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