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Deep-Sea Bacteria Hold Key To Neutralizing Carbon Dioxide

23 October 2015, 7:05 am EDT By Julienne Roman Tech Times
Brian Mahon, pictured here, and his colleagues found a heat resistant enzyme produced by deep sea bacteria that can convert carbon dioxide into harmless compounds.  ( University of Florida Health | YouTube )

Researchers may have found a possible solution for reducing global carbon dioxide emissions in the form of humble deep-sea bacteria.

To reduce the presence of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere, researchers from the University of Florida are planning to utilize the deep-sea bacteria, the Thiomicrospira crunogena. T. crunogena produces carbonic anhydrase, which can help remove carbon dioxide while being able to withstand high temperatures that is needed to convert carbon dioxide into harmless compounds.

"This (bacterium) has evolved to deal with those extreme temperature and pressure problems. It has already adapted to some of the conditions it would face in an industrial setting," said senior researcher Robert McKenna, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology in the University of Florida, College of Medicine.

McKenna and his team's findings showed that carbonic anhydrase works as a catalyst between carbon dioxide and water to convert the former into harmless bicarbonate, a compound found in common household items like baking soda and chalk.

To reduce industrial level amounts of carbon dioxide, the team proposed that a reactor vessel filled with a large quantity of the enzyme can be used to serve as a purification column where carbon dioxide can be passed and converted into bicarbonate. So far, researchers have been able to acquire the enzyme by making genetically engineered bacteria like E.coli to produce it.

The enzyme, however, is not without its drawbacks. Study co-author Avni Bhatt points outs that while the enzyme has good heat tolerance, its efficiency in converting carbon dioxide to carbonate is rather slow.

"You want it to do the reaction faster and more efficiently," Bhatt said. She added that, with more research, she hopes that a variant of the enzyme that is just as heat tolerant yet more efficient will be produced to cope with the needs in the industrial setting.

Scientists all over the world are still hard at work studying how to utilize carbonic anhydrase's ability to come up with a carbon dioxide conversion system. McKenna, however, is encouraged by the results of his study and the prospect of discovering something that could ultimately benefit the planet.

Carbon dioxide, a by-product of fossil fuel production, is a major factor in the increased buildup of atmospheric greenhouse gases that is then responsible for the worldwide phenomenon of climate change.

The effect of worsening climate change is still felt all over the world, from rising sea levels to temperature spikes and increasingly violent storms and floods. But with the possibility of reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere becoming closer to reality, there may be hope that global warming and climate change can also be affected for the better.

The researchers' findings are published in the journals Acta Crystallographica D: Biological Crystallography and Chemical Engineering Science.

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