Scientists aim to turbocharge plants

2012-02-20 09:24

kalahari.com

Vancouver - Turbo-charging photosynthesis - by which plants and bacteria turn sunlight into food and energy - in an "artificial leaf" could yield a vast commercial power source, scientists said.

Photosynthesis is "unfortunately not very efficient", Anne Jones, assistant professor and biochemist at Arizona State University, told the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Vancouver this weekend.

"In fact, all of our current fossil fuels are products of this process," she said. But photosynthesis efficiency "could be boosted to increase food yields or sustainable biofuel production."

The world's energy consumption is expected to surge by 100% in the next 40 years.

That is expected even as oil and gas reserves are being used up, according to researchers, who are weighing a range of approaches to harness the power of photosynthesis to power engines.

Efficiency

Scientists said that given the low efficiency of photosynthesis, the top theoretical yield for squeezing energy out of the process with major crops such as wheat or sugar beets would be about 5%.

But if efficiency could be forced up by even a few percentage points, they could be sitting on major biofuel production potential.

Jones said that when the enzyme that catalyses steps in CO2 fixation, called Rubisco, becomes saturated, the process of producing carbohydrate slows down and that most absorbed light energy is lost as heat.

"When it's sunny, a plant's molecular machinery produces more electrons than the Rubisco carbohydrate-producing engine can handle, and a lot of those electrons are wasted," she said.

The situation, she said, was akin to a power plant unconnected to distribution grid, in which excess energy goes to waste.

"In this sense photosynthesis is like a badly connected electrical grid," Jones said.

Scientists want to harness the excess solar energy by transferring energy absorbed in a photosynthetic light harvesting cell via biological nanowires to a separate cell that will produce fuel.

Turbocharging

Howard Griffiths, a Cambridge professor of plant ecology, is aiming to increase the efficiency of Rice's photosynthesis process of manipulating the Rubisco enzyme.

It is a bit like turbocharging a motor in mechanics - but not so easy just yet.

Nature has already seen to it that some plants - such as sugar cane and algae - have a relatively higher-performance sort of Rubisco enzyme on hand thanks to a molecular mechanism called C-4.

This cell machinery may be able to be genetically engineered into rice to push crop yields higher.

Another take on tweaking photosynthesis came from Richard Cogdell, director of the Institute of Molecular Cell and Systems Biology at the University of Glasgow, Scotland.

It would use an artificial leaf to directly produce biofuel, using carbon dioxide and water. The biofuel would be a terpene, which "under the right conditions... behaves like octane", said Cogdell.

"We are a long way from that, but we have the blueprint" that will get scientists at least half the way, he said.

"That is one of the grand challenges we are facing - when oil and gas will run out, just to develop new ways of developing solar energy into fuel. We have a window of opportunity of 30 to 50 years," Cogdell said.

Read more on:    research
NEXT ON NEWS24X

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
2 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
 

Anglican Church urges people to vote

The Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba has called on his congregation to use their right to vote, amid a campaign to spoil ballot papers.

 
 

Latest elections multimedia

Why Jack Parow wants you to vote on 7 May
The ad the SABC doesn't want to air
Elections 2014 in one cartoon
This year's election posters
 
Traffic
Lottery
 
  • Thursday Sir Lowry's Pass - 05:35 AM
    Road name: Old Sir Lowrys Pass Road
    TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Bezweni Road
  • Thursday Cape Town - 05:35 AM
    Road name: Buitengracht Street
    TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Waterkant Street
 
More traffic reports...
 

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Escape winter, head to Mauritius

Escape winter by spending 7 nights in Mauritius' tropical bliss from R13 215 per person sharing. Includes return flights, airport transfers and accommodation. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Get many eggs in one basket!

Gaming bundles: 2 Super Hits games for R99, 3 Disney games for R99 and more + exclusive accessory bundles only available on kalahari.com. While stocks last. Shop now!

25% off bestselling books!

The Real Meal Revolution by Tim Noakes, Jeffrey Archer’s Be Careful What You Wish for, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frank and many more titles. Shop now!

Up to 25% off electronics

Buy top electronics and save up to 25%. Such as kalahari.com’s 1# selling product the gobii eReader, Patriot X Porter flash drive, Asus Nexus 7” 3G tablet, Samsung Galaxy SIII, Lenovo G580 Notebook and many more. Shop now!

DStv HD PVR Decoder now R949

The DStv HD PVR Decoder has further revolutionised the television experience with lifelike viewing, sharper images, more vibrant colours and precision picture quality. Now R949, save R550. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 30% off appliances & homeware

Save up to 30% on appliances and homeware this Easter! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Samsung Galaxy Note 16GB

GALAXY Note combines the market's largest HD Super AMOLED display,...

From R3899.00

I'm shopping for:

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

You may be good at organising events but they do take their toll on your energy levels. You may need some time out today just to...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.