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How Ocean Bacterium Turns Carbon Into Fuel

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. We hear this mantra time and again. When it comes to carbon‹the "Most Wanted" element in terms of climate change‹nature has got reuse and recycle covered. However, it's up to us to reduce. Scientists at Harvard Medical School are trying to meet this challenge by learning more about the carbon cycle, that is, the process by which carbon moves from the atmosphere into plants, oceans, soils, the earth's crust, and back into the atmosphere again.

One of the biggest movers and shakers is the lowly cyanobacteria, an ocean-dwelling, one-celled organism. Pamela Silver, HMS professor of systems biology, and colleagues have uncovered details about how this bacteria fixes, or digests, carbon. These bacteria build miniature factories inside themselves that turn carbon into fuel.

Silver and her colleagues report that the bacteria organize these factories spatially, revealing a structural sophistication not often seen in single-celled organisms. This regular and predictable spacing improves the efficiency of carbon processing. In the future, an understanding of the mechanisms that govern this spatial organization may help improve the efficiency of designer bacteria engineered to produce carbon-neutral fuels such as biodiesel and hydrogen.

These findings are published online in the journal Science.
 
 

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