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Microbial spacesuits help bacteria convert CO2 to useful chemicals

Date: 3.10.2018 

Bacteria have been found living in some pretty hostile environments, but they're not invincible. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have now developed "spacesuits" that wrap around bacteria to not only protect them from the elements, but turn them into biohybrids that capture carbon dioxide and turn it into useful chemicals.

Kredit: University of California, Berkeley.The so-called spacesuits are made of metallic organic frameworks (MOFs). These structures have some of the highest surface areas of any material, with one gram holding the equivalent surface area of a football field. That incredible hidden space means MOFs can absorb quite a lot of molecules, and have been used in the past as industrial carbon-capture filters, "electronic noses" for detecting chemicals, and membranes that can separate drinking water and useable minerals out of seawater.

In this case, the UC Berkeley researchers used MOF meshes to protect bacteria and even feed them. The overall goal was to use these bugs as a hybrid artificial photosynthesis system, which takes in carbon dioxide and produces certain chemicals that are needed in industrial use.

In their experiments, the team had the bacteria float in a solution alongside MOFs, which ends up coating the bugs in a shell just one nanometer thick. Importantly, these MOFs were made of zirconium, which is flexible enough to still allow the bacteria to grow and divide, with more MOFs then coating the new ones.

Once enshrouded, the bacteria were protected from oxygen in the environment, as well as that created as a by-product of the chemical reactions. The team says bacteria wrapped in MOF suits lived five times longer than naked ones, at oxygen concentrations of about 21 percent.

 


 

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