For the first time in history scientists used bacteria and viruses to create nano-reactor.
Scientists from Indiana University managed to modify and enzyme and hide it inside a virus creating a new biomaterial which is able to catalyze the production of hydrogen. Extracting from this, researchers could create biofuel production processes which are more efficient and more profitable.
The enzyme that produces hydrogen is about 150 times more efficient inside the protein shell of the virus than it could create unaltered.
Leading author of the study – chemistry professor Earl Blough from the IU Bloomington explained that his team has used viruses’ amazing ability of self-assembling myriad genetic building-blocks in which they incorporated an enzyme able to transform protons in hydrogen. From this resulted the nano-reactor which has the size of a virus and it is able to catalyze and produce hydrogen.
Researchers took the genetic material that they used to create the enzyme – hydrogenase – which is produced naturally by two genes from the bacteria Escherichia coli (E.coli), introduced inside the protective capsid. The two genes of E.coli – hyaA and HyaB encode key subunits of the sophisticated hydrogenase enzyme. The capsid has been taken from a bacterial virus named bacteriophage 22.
Scientists named the resulting biomaterial “P22-Hyd” – a combination from the name of the enzyme and that of the virus used to create it.
P22-Hyd is basically produced through a simple process of fermentation at room temperature. Besides that it is way cheaper and more eco-friendly to produce than any other fuel cells produced until now.
Before this revolutionary moment, the material used to catalyze hydrogen as fuel was platinum, which is a super expensive rare metal. Unlike platinum, P22-Hyd is totally renewable, it is easy accessible as you don’t have to mine for it, it is biodegradable and it can be created at room’s temperature through a simple fermentation process.
But one of the best parts of P22-Hyd is that it works in two ways – it either breaks water to create hydrogen and it can also recombine oxygen and hydrogen to generate power.
According to Douglas the next step of research is to incorporate P22-Hyd into a solar-powered system.
The current research has been supported by the United States’ Department of Energy and it has been recently published in Nature Chemistry journal. The other co-authors of the study are Megan C. Thielges; Ethan J. Edwards and Paul C. Jordan.
Image source: Indiana University/Trevor Douglas