Chinese researchers have created a kind of artificial bacterial "factory" that uses solar power and airborne carbon dioxide and nitrogen to synthesize proteins essential for applications in agriculture, medicine and the environment.
While some organisms are capable of producing useful biological molecules, the industry requires a greater quantity of these molecules than what can be naturally generated by microbes.
One solution is to add biocompatible conductive polymers into the biosystem to improve photosynthesis and electron transfer between organisms.
The study published this week in the journal Science Advances described a conductive polymer called PFP, which is incorporated into a solar-powered modular biosystem composed of three bacteria.
The researchers from the Institute of Chemistry under the Chinese Academy of Sciences found that PFP could effectively improve photosynthesis and electron transfer.
The experiment demonstrated that two of the bacteria are capable of harnessing increased amounts of airborne carbon and nitrogen, while the third one can use these nutrients to produce more than double the gamma-polyglutamic acid than the three-microbe system could produce without PFP, according to the study.
The gamma-polyglutamic acid is a compound widely used in applications from cosmetics manufacturing to water treatment.
The system can also be used to synthesize a commercial antibiotic called bacitracin A, according to the study.
This artificial system provides a revolutionary tool for creating functional proteins on demand that can be used on the frontiers of medicine, food, energy and environmental protection, the researchers said.