So­lar pan­els grown in cy­borg bac­te­ria

Re­searchers in Cal­i­for­nia have turned mi­crobes into so­lar gen­er­a­tors.

Cosmos - - Digest -

The de­vel­op­ment of pho­to­syn­the­sis in cyanobac­te­ria was a piv­otal mo­ment in the evo­lu­tion of life. But pho­to­syn­the­sis it­self is a pretty in­ef­fi­cient process. Around the world, sci­en­tists are try­ing to im­prove it through bio­engi­neer­ing.

Now re­searchers from the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley (UCB), have in­duced bac­te­ria to coat them­selves in tiny, highly ef­fi­cient so­lar pan­els.

The sci­en­tists used a species called Moorella ther­moacetica, which does not nat­u­rally pho­to­syn­the­sise, but lead re­searcher Kelsey Saki­moto and his col­leagues in­duced them to cover them­selves in semi­con­duc­tor nanocrys­tals.

The work fol­lows some by UCB’S Pei­dong Yang, who spe­cialises in mak­ing inorganic semi­con­duc­tors and bind­ing them to bac­te­ria.

Saki­moto chose M. ther­moacetica be­cause it pro­duces acetic acid in its nor­mal res­pi­ra­tory cy­cle. The acid is used to cre­ate poly­mers and other prod­ucts.

The re­searchers suc­cess­fully in­duced the bac­te­ria to bond with a com­bi­na­tion of cad­mium and the amino acid cys­teine – which con­tains a sul­fur atom, caus­ing the bac­te­ria to syn­the­sise cad­mium sul­fide (CDS) nanopar­ti­cles – which func­tion as so­lar pan­els. The re­sult­ing hy­brids – dubbed M. ther­moacetica-cds – pro­duced acetic acid us­ing CO , wa­ter and light at 2 80% ef­fi­ciency.

“Rather than rely on in­ef­fi­cient chloro­phyll to har­vest sun­light, I’ve taught bac­te­ria how to grow and cover their bod­ies with tiny semi­con­duc­tor nanocrys­tals,” Saki­moto says.

“These nanocrys­tals are much more ef­fi­cient than chloro­phyll and can be grown at a frac­tion of the cost of man­u­fac­tured so­lar pan­els.”

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