Photosynthesis actually is an inefficient process, but a biological chemist is trying to crank it up.
“Photosynthesis is surprisingly inefficient, only of the order of 1 to 2 percent. And one of the main culprits is an enzyme called RuBisCo.”
Laura Barter, a biological chemist at Imperial College London. Scientific American Editor in Chief Mariette DiChristina recorded these comments when they chatted at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos.
That enzyme RuBisCo? Because it’s vital for the first major step in photosynthesis, it’s probably the most abundant enzyme on the planet. And it’s worked fine for a very long time. But for our needs, we humans want it to work better.
“And I’m very interested in trying to improve upon this enzyme because it’s both slow and it also suffers from a lack of specificity. And it can catalyze a reaction with carbon dioxide that you want, but also a competing reaction with oxygen. And, so we’re looking at ways that we can enhance the local concentration of carbon dioxide around RuBisCo to increase its efficiency—and ultimately increase crop yield.”
Barter explained how she’s trying to do that at a talk she gave at the Forum:
“There are a suite of enzymes that are involved in the capture and release of carbon dioxide and we’re synthesizing some molecules that can mimic this behavior. With the hope that they can be sprayed on crops much in the same way as a fertilizer. And will be taken up by the plant and will increase the concentration of carbon dioxide around RuBisCo inside the plant and increase its activity and photosynthetic yields. Now, we have already synthesized this suite of molecules and have shown that they can capture and release carbon dioxide and we’re testing their effect on RuBisCo that’s been extracted from plants and seeing really, really, exciting results.”
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]