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Engineered system harnesses carbon dioxide faster than plants

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We all know that Plants remove carbon dioxide from the air by converting it into organic compounds like sugar. They are just a little too slow.

This natural process gets an upgrade. A team of Researchers from the Max-Planck-Institute (MPI) for Terrestrial Microbiology in Marburg, Germany have developed a synthetic pathway that can do it faster. The pathway uses a new group of CO2- converting enzymes that is nearly 20 times faster than the most prevalent enzyme in nature. It is yet to be implemented in living organisms but could one day be transplanted into plants so they can convert carbon dioxide faster and with less energy.

Engineered system harnesses carbon dioxide faster than plants

Tobias Erb, a terrestrial microbiologist at the Max Planck Institute, and colleagues brought together 17 enzymatic compounds from nine organisms in an engineered pathway that converts carbon dioxide into useful organic compounds.

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Deploying the concept of metabolic

In the end, they sourced, through sequencing and synthesis, 17 different enzymes from 9 different organisms across the three kingdoms of life and orchestrated these parts to achieve a proof of principle CO2-fixation pathway performance that exceeds that which can be found in nature. Erb calls this the “CETCH cycle” for crotonyl-CoA/ethylmalonyl-12 CoA/hydroxybutyryl-CoA. Because it ‘cetches’ CO2 more efficiently from the atmosphere

By deploying the concept of metabolic “retrosynthesis,” dismantling the reaction step by step all the way back to smaller precursors, the team juggled the thermodynamic conditions and came up with a strategy that yielded more promising results that competed favorably with natural-occurring metabolic pathways. Then they plumbed the depths of the public databases for enzymes that would support their model and selected several dozen to try out.

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This research was supported by the European Research Council, the Swiss National Science Foundation, ETH Zurich and the Max-Planck Society.

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