Discovering an Enzyme in Soil Bacteria to Convert Air into Electricity
Australian scientists have discovered an enzyme that turns air into electricity, which could open up an almost unlimited source of clean energy.
A team at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, has discovered that a hydrogen-consuming enzyme from common soil bacteria can generate electricity using the atmosphere as an energy source.
IN @Nature Today (open access) we report on the structural and mechanical underpinnings of how bacteria harvest energy from the air. We uncover a new enzyme, Huc, that consumes atmospheric levels of hydrogen gas and donates derived electrons for aerobic respiration. https://t.co/5J0Pq1mS7l
— Chris Greening (@greeninglab) March 8, 2023
Professor Chris Greening of the Institute for Biomedical Discovery at Monash University Melbourne said: “We have known for a long time that bacteria can use trace amounts of hydrogen in the air as an energy source to help them grow and survive, including in Antarctic soils, craters and deep ocean. But we still don’t know how she did it.”
Scientists studying direct relatives of the bacteria that cause tuberculosis and leprosy have been able to extract an enzyme responsible for using atmospheric hydrogen from a soil bacterium called Mycobacterium smegmatis, according to a research paper published in Nature on March 8.
The team showed that the enzyme, named Huc, was “surprisingly stable” and amazingly efficient at producing “energy from thin air.”
Dr. Rees-Grinter of Monash University said: “Huc is extraordinarily effective. And unlike all other known enzymes and catalysts, it consumes hydrogen below atmospheric levels, less than 0.00005% of the air we breathe.”
Experiments have shown that purified Huc can be stored for long periods at freezing temperatures or heated to 80 °C (176 °F) without losing its ability to generate electricity, “reflecting that this enzyme helps bacteria survive under the most extreme conditions.” scientists.
The work demonstrates that Huc acts like a “natural battery” that produces a constant electric current from air or added hydrogen.
Although the results are still at an early stage, Hook’s discovery has great potential for the development of low-powered devices, for example, as an alternative to solar-powered devices.
Bacteria producing enzymes such as Huc are widespread and can be cultivated in large numbers, which means we have access to a sustainable source of the enzyme.
The immediate goal, says Dr. Grinter, is to increase production of Huc so it can be used effectively on a larger scale.
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