Advertisement

The search for ways to coax more energy out of natural sources has been a 21st century crusade. Some have looked to the skies, to the wind, the gas pockets trapped deep underground, and others have sought new sources entirely.

Using a little ingenuity, a team of scientists at the University of California,, Berkeley have made what could be considered “cyborg” bacteria that have been outfitted with de-facto solar panels that produce much more energy than they would naturally, according to new research presented at the annual national meeting of the American Chemical Society, in Washington D.C., this week.

Moorella thermoacetica normally produces acetic acid from carbon dioxide, without photosynthesis.

But the scientists made a hybrid organism called M. thermoacetica-CdS by feeding the bacteria cadmium and cysteine, an amino acid. Using the sulfur atom from the cysteine, the bacteria produced cadmium sulfide nanoparticles. Those nanoparticles that are essentially semiconductor nanocrystals which covered the bacteria surface – thereby becoming “solar panels.”

“Rather than rely on inefficient chlorophyll to harvest sunlight, I’ve taught bacteria how to grow and cover their bodies with tiny semiconductor nanocrystals,” said Kelsey Sakimoto, the lead researcher. “These nanocrystals are much more efficient than chlorophyll and can be grown at a fraction of the cost of manufactured solar panels.”

The change is self-replicating, and the bacteria operate at an efficiency of 80 percent, according to the scientists. The energy produced by the new “cyborg” organism is much greater than chlorophyll could ever hope to be – since it’s carbon dioxide, water, and an increased amount of light as part of the synthesis process.

“The whole carbon-dioxide-to-chemical apparatus is self-contained and only requires a big vat out in the sun,” added Sakimoto.

Food, fuels and plastics could all be produced through the harnessed power of the bacteria, they added.

Another microbe that has been considered for major energy development is a microalgae known as Nannochloropsis gaditana used in industrial applications. ExxonMobil and a biotch company called Synthetic Genomics announced in the journal Nature Biotechnology in June that they had found a way to tweak the genes of the microbe in order to produce huge amounts of energy.

Advertisement
Advertisement