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.
Evolution 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.