A major economic driver for most countries is energy availability and use. While natural gas, oil, and coal reserves are still likely to last humanity for many hundreds of years, their distribution across the planet is not equal. The ability for a nation to produce its own transportation fuel, irrespective of available natural resources will be a huge source of economic growth in the 21st century. Synthetic biology may have the answer to some, if not all, of these pressing global issues.
Below are some examples of teams which worked on energy problems, and their project abstracts.
The current world is undergoing a global energy change. Among all possible substitutes for fossil fuels, hydrogen serves as a praising future energy form. In this year’s iGEM competition, our team intended to harness solar energy to drive whole-cell hydrogen production in air conditions. We constructed a recombinant strain of Escherichia coli over expressing the indigenous [Ni-Fe] hydrogenase Hyd1 and relevant maturases. Energy of photons are transformed to excited electrons by semiconductors such as TiO2, and methyl vionlogen transports the electron to the biocatalyst. Noting that hydrogenases are commonly sensitive to oxygen, we constructed special silica encapsulation forming an anaerobic environment within bacteria cell clusters to avoid oxidative damage. The combination of biocatalyst, semiconductors and silica then leads to in air light-driven hydrogen production. This project sparks new light onto chemical-biological hybrid methods in the development of new energy forms.
Macquarie Australia 2015
Solar Synthesisers: Engineering the chlorophyll biosynthesis pathway and photosystem II in E. coli
Photosynthesis is a key biological pathway utilized by plants and algae to generate useable energy from sunlight. Chlorophyll is a green pigment in photosynthetic organisms that aids in the manufacture of energy. Our aim is to engineer and express 13 genes of the chlorophyll-a biosynthetic pathway from Chlamydomonas reinhardtii in E. coli. While this pathway has been well characterised, reproduction of this process in non-photosynthetic organisms has not been successful. Our second goal is to synthetically engineer Photosystem II in E. coli, which consists of 17 genes. Photosystem II is a multi-subunit protein complex that generates oxygen and electrons, by oxidation of water molecules. Transferring these electrons to a hydrogenase would potentially lead to production of hydrogen on an industrial scale. Our goals are the first step towards clean and sustainable hydrogen production as a viable future energy source.
MFCs are capable of converting the chemical energy stored in the chemical compounds in organic biomass to electrical energy with the aid of microorganisms. However, traditional single-strain MFC faces many practical barriers such as low current density, high cost and unstable electricity output, which seriously impede the future applications. To solve these problems, extending engineering capabilities from single-cell behaviors to multi-cellular microbial consortia brings us new inspiration. So we establish a co-cultured MFC system with an elaborate labor division. Based on our complicated co-cultured system, a rational designed relationship of material, information and energy is being explored. We regulate lactate metabolism, the key point of material flux, through lactate sensing system, orthogonal targeted protease degradation, etc. Additionally, we also make riboflavin as the entry point to regulate energy and information relationship. Through reconstruction of the co-cultured MFC, a more efficient and robust system is built up.
TU Darmstadt 2014
E. Grätzel – Solar BioEnergy
This year the team aims to achieve victory in the championship of synthetic biology by investigating a new approach to produce a plant pigment called Anthocyanin in Escherichia coli (E. coli). This class of pigment not only stains blossoms in blue, violet or red but also is enclosed in fruits and is valued for its antioxidant effect as well as the ability to lower the risks for cancer. In the team’s technological approach, the anthocyanin dye can be utilised to build so-called “Grätzel cells”. These electrochemical dye-sensitized solar cells use the produced dye instead of a semiconductor material for the absorption of light. The objective is to investigate an innovative approach for a sustainable energy source; wherever and whenever needed. In the course of the project phase, the team will construct a Grätzel cell testing their dye that was produced in E. coli.