Synthetic Photosynthesis? New Tech Recycles Carbon Dioxide Faster Than Plants

This engineered pathway could stabilize the Earth's problematic CO2 levels.

11. 17. 16 by Dom Galeon
Julian Melchiorri
Image by Julian Melchiorri

Everyone knows the role of photosynthesis in absorbing carbon dioxide (CO2). While there isn’t any doubt that plants are doing their job, there’s simply just too much CO2 for the plants to absorb and “fix.” Plus a main enzyme involved in the process doesn’t work that fast. A team of researchers led by Thomas Schwander may be able to help.

In a study published in Science, the researchers detail how they managed to make a synthetic pathway that converts CO2 into organic compounds faster than plants. In order to find an enzyme to improve CO2 fixation, the researchers carefully selected 17 enzymatic compounds from nine organisms. These were engineered together using stepwise optimization to form a synthetic pathway that converts CO2 into organic molecules.

Credits: pixabay

Though not yet implemented in a living organism, high-resolution mass spectrometry showed in vitro that the new pathway could capture CO2 at a rate faster than the natural Calvin Cycle in plants.

Once the technology is successfully transplanted into living plants, we would be in for faster, less energy-intensive CO2 fixation. Its applications include developing systems to create carbon-based feed for cattle, and perhaps even designing desirable chemical products. The obvious impact is better CO2 processing, which may contribute to stabilizing its presence in our atmosphere.

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