Bacteria to power laptops - can synthetic biology solve energy crisis?
Cutting edge thinking on harnessing the enzyme activity of bacteria to power appliances such as laptops. Some might begin to worry about the 'design' element when applied to bacteria or other living matter and the potential for designing accidentally dangerous bacteria as a by-product of the technique but exciting ideas.
You can power laptops - and, potentially cars - using hydrogen extracted from water. The trouble is that it takes a lot of electricity. A simpler way would be to do it naturally, using enzymes - proteins which catalyse reactions - and bacteria. These do exist: certain green algae and "cyanobacteria" can split water using photosynthesis to produce molecular hydrogen.
But to create a generation of cars that would run on water with some sludge in the back, we need to learn how to design our own bacteria and enzymes that can co-opt natural processes for our ends.
Natural hydrogen-producing enzymes are complex, often using metal atoms to help them work. "For many of the enzymes related to energy production, people have no idea how they are actually organised," says Giovanna Ghirlanda, a protein-design researcher at the University of Arizona.