Menu

A Newly Identified Photoenzyme Helps Algae Pump Out Fuel

The finding could lead to a new way of producing “green” alternatives to fossil fuels.

Feb 1, 2018
Katarina Zimmer

GREEN MACHINES: One species of Chlorella algae uses a photoenzyme to convert fatty acids into fossil fuel–like hydrocarbons.LAURENCE GODART

EDITOR'S CHOICE IN CELL & MOLECULAR BIOLOGY

The paper
D. Sorigué et al., “An algal photoenzyme converts fatty acids to hydrocarbons,” Science, 357:903-907, 2017.

Green Fuel
Finding enzymes in nature that convert plant oils into fossil fuel–like hydrocarbons could lead the way toward harnessing new energy sources. After observing that the freshwater alga Chlorella variabilis can convert fatty acids into alkanes or alkenes, a team of researchers from France decided to investigate how it accomplished this feat.

Fatty Acid Engine
The researchers’ assay detected a particularly abundant hydrocarbon-forming enzyme that appears to be located in C. variabilis’s chloroplast membrane, says study leader Frédéric Beisson, who researches algae metabolism at the Institute of Biosciences and Biotechnologies at Aix-Marseille University. So they expressed the protein in E. coli to test its function, and used mass spectrometry to get a close look at its mechanism of action. The enzyme turned out to be capable of converting a range of fatty acid substrates into hydrocarbon chains, but only under blue light.

A Rare Find
The researchers were surprised to find that the new enzyme, dubbed fatty acid photodecarboxylase, captures energy directly from light, in contrast to enzymes whose expression is regulated by light. “It wasn’t something we were expecting,” remarks Beisson. Additionally, unlike enzymes that need just a flash of light to become active, the new enzyme only works under continuous light, making it an addition to a mere handful of known “photoenzymes.”

Getting Into Gear
The production of hydrocarbons is a well-studied process in algae, Günther Knör, a chemist at Johannes Kepler University in Austria, writes to The Scientist in an email. But he thinks that photoenzymes could be used to more efficiently produce hydrocarbons in light-driven artificial systems in the near future: “This would be a breakthrough for solar fuel generation inspired by nature.”

January 2019

Cannabis on Board

Research suggests ill effects of cannabinoids in the womb

Marketplace

Sponsored Product Updates

FORMULATRIX® digital PCR technology to be acquired by QIAGEN
FORMULATRIX® digital PCR technology to be acquired by QIAGEN
FORMULATRIX has announced that their digital PCR assets, including the CONSTELLATION® series of instruments, is being acquired by QIAGEN N.V. (NYSE: QGEN, Frankfurt Stock Exchange: QIA) for up to $260 million ($125 million upfront payment and $135 million of milestones).  QIAGEN has announced plans for a global launch in 2020 of a new series of digital PCR platforms that utilize the advanced dPCR technology developed by FORMULATRIX combined with QIAGEN’s expertise in assay development and automation.
Application of CRISPR/Cas to the Generation of Genetically Engineered Mice
Application of CRISPR/Cas to the Generation of Genetically Engineered Mice
With this application note from Taconic, learn about the power that the CRISPR/Cas system has to revolutionize the field of custom mouse model generation!
Translational Models of Obesity, Dysmetabolism, Diabetes, and Complications
Translational Models of Obesity, Dysmetabolism, Diabetes, and Complications
This webinar, from Crown Bioscience, presents a unique continuum of translational dysmetabolic platforms that more closely mimic human disease. Learn about using next-generation rodent and spontaneously diabetic non-human primate models to accurately model human-relevant disease progression and complications related to obesity and diabetes here!
BiochemAR: an augmented reality app for easy visualization of virtual 3D molecular models
BiochemAR: an augmented reality app for easy visualization of virtual 3D molecular models
Have you played Pokemon Go? Then you've used Augmented Reality (AR) technology! AR technology holds substantial promise and potential for providing a low-cost, easy to use digital platform for the manipulation of virtual 3D objects, including 3D models of biological macromolecules.