Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Artificial photosynthesis and Synthetic biology

Future global energy needs cannot be met by any single source of energy known to us today. Contributions from different energy sources might make it possible to meet the energy needs. Solar energy is converted into biomass which can be used as energy source. However, the production of biomass is a inefficient process. Hence, different approaches to mimic the efficient parts of the system is being attempted.

Hydrogenase enzyme which catalyzes the formation of hydrogen is coupled to photosystem II to use water for utilizing the solar energy more effectively. Among the different steps involved in photosynthesis, the following are considered to be worth mimicking.

1.Absorb light and funnel energy
2.Convert energy to charge separated state
3.Couple charge separation to catalysis
4.Higher level of organization

Different molecules and molecular complexes are being perfected for each of the steps in the hope of increasing the efficiency.

Synthetic biology is the design and construction of new biological parts, devices and systems for useful purposes. The purpose of making parts and devices is to be able to have standardized components which could be used to build devices. The registry of standard parts is one such collection of parts such as promoters, ribosome binding sites, protein domains, protein coding sequences, translational units, terminators etc.

The standardized parts known as bricks are characterized and ready to use for that specific function. Computer aided design and simulations will play a significant role in this process. Simulating the model of the system can give results which can be used for designing the system. Unpredictable results may occur while using these design principles due to cross talk between the different components. These have to be taken care of and modularized.

Application areas for synthetic biology are widespread. It could help in fields such as bioenergy, drugs and chemicals, biomaterials, medicine etc. Coordinating the bacteria or yeast involved in fermentation by engineering the microbes could eliminate the need for monitoring the culture as it will be self regulated. With an increased knowledge of the various cellular processes, it should be possible to engineer entire new cellular systems as per requirement. Such a use of synthetic biology to design a cell from ground up might be made possible by integrative synthetic biology.

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