Researchers Create an Artificial Chloroplast

Monday, May 11, 2020 - 12:08

The Max Planck researchers have developed an artificial chloroplast that would mean the ability to produce clean energy, clean fuel, clean carbon compounds such as antibiotics, and other products simply from light and carbon dioxide.

The Marburg research team led by director Tobias Erb at the Max Planck Society, in an interdisciplinary multi-lab initiative, the MaxSynBio network, has succeeded successfully created a platform for the automated construction of cell-sized photosynthetically active compartments, "artificial chloroplasts," that are able to capture and convert the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide with light, phys.org reports.

The Max Planck researchers made use of two recent technological developments: first synthetic biology for the design and construction of novel biological systems, such as reaction networks for the capture and conversion of carbon dioxide, and second microfluidics, for the assembly of soft materials, such as cell-sized droplets.

"We first needed an energy module that would allow us to power chemical reactions in a sustainable fashion. In photosynthesis, chloroplast membranes provide the energy for carbon dioxide fixation, and we planned to exploit this ability ", Tobias Erb explains.

The photosynthesis apparatus isolated from the spinach plant proved to be robust enough that it could be used to drive single reactions and more complex reaction networks with light. For the dark reaction, the researchers used their own artificial metabolic module, the CETCH cycle. It consists of 18 biocatalysts that convert carbon dioxide more efficiently than the carbon metabolism naturally occurring in plants. After several optimization rounds, the team succeeded in light-controlled fixation of the greenhouse gas CO2 in vitro.

The second challenge was the assembly of the system within a defined compartment on a micro scale. With a view to future applications, it should also be easy to automate production. In cooperation with Jean-Christophe Baret's laboratory at the Centre de Recherché Paul Pascal (CRPP) in France, researchers developed a platform for encapsulating the semi-synthetic membranes in cell-like droplets.

More information: Tarryn E. Miller et al. Light-powered CO2 fixation in a chloroplast mimic with natural and synthetic parts, Science (2020). DOI: 10.1126/science.aaz6802

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