Bionic Leaf

One of the greatest challenges in biology is to increase the efficiency of photosynthesis and carbon fixation. We are taking several unique strategies that focus for the most part on biosynthetic microbes but also have ventured recently into working on plants. We also seek to understand and create novel cell consortia that for example would depend on incoming light. We also design cells that can interact with signals propagated by non-living materials such as magnetism or electricity from solar power. We collaborate with Dan Nocera in the Chemistry Dept at Harvard and are part of a large DOE effort in this area.


bionicleaf2Evolution is constrained by earth’s natural history. Existing biological systems are rarely evolved to produce pure compounds in large quantities comparable to industrial yields. Instead, life evolved exquisite control over producing a wide range of chemical products. By interfacing inorganic catalysts with engineered bacteria, it may be possible to merge high industrial yields with biology’s chemical catalog. To this end, we created the ‘bionic leaf’, a system in which the bacterium Ralstonia eutropha converts CO2 and H2 produced from electrolysis into fusel alcohols and biomass. We are interested in optimizing this system’s yields along with tackling difficult chemical transformations.




Torella JP, Gagliardi CJ, Chen JS, Bediako DK, Colón B, Way JC, Silver PA, Nocera DG. (2015). Efficient solar-to-fuels production from a hybrid microbial-water-splitting catalyst system. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 112(8), 2337-42. PMID: 25675518

Chen JS, Colón B, Dusel B, Ziesack M, Way JC, Torella JP. (2015). Production of fatty acids in Ralstonia eutropha H16 by engineering B-oxidation and carbon storage. PeerJ, 3:e1468. Link.

Water splitting-biosynthetic system with CO₂ reduction efficiencies exceeding photosynthesis. Liu C, Colón BC, Ziesack M, Silver PA, Nocera DG. Science. PMID: 27257255


Researchers: Marika Ziesack (graduate student), Shannon Nangle, and Kelsey Sakimoto (postdoctoral fellows) in collaboration with Dan Nocera (Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology).