Scientists have reached a major milestone in the search for renewable energy, and it is in the form of an altered enzyme encased in a protective viral capsid.
From Indiana University, lead researcher Trevor Douglas and his team used two Escherchia coli (E. coli) genes, hyaA and hyaB to produce hydrogenase in the lab. E. coli is commonly used in the lab as a model organism and can often be the cause of food poisoning (CDC). While being sheltered in a protective shell from bacteriophage 22, a virus that infects bacteria, modified hydrogenase has the power to catalyze the formation of hydrogen by breaking the chemical bonds of water.
In nature, hydrogenase is required by most microorganisms for energy metabolism (Structure). Harnessing the power of hydrogenase could be key for creating renewable energy.
“You don’t need to mine it; you can create it at room temperature on a massive scale using fermentation technology; it’s biodegradable,” said Douglas on the modified enzyme. “It’s a very green process to make a very high-end sustainable material.”
The new enzyme is called “P22-Hyd,” and Douglas’ team reports that it is 150 times more efficient than the enzyme in its natural state.
“The end result is a virus-like particle that behaves the same as a highly sophisticated material that catalyzes the production of hydrogen,” Douglas said. His study was published in Nature Chemistry earlier this month.
P22-Hyd costs less to make, is more environmentally friendly, and can also reverse its effect, recombining the chemical bonds of water to generate power.
“It’s truly renewable,” Douglas said.
Next, Douglas and his team set out to make P22-Hyd the best candidate for creating hydrogen power by activating a “catalytic reaction with sunlight.” If they continue to be successful, highly efficient, modified hydrogenase could be the future of providing inexpensive and efficient fuel.
(Image credit: pulseheadlines.com)