Saturday, July 16, 2011

Fixing the Climate Crisis by Re-engineering the Chloroplast

A limited amount of sunlight energy hits earth's plants and a limited percentage of this transforms carbon dioxide to sugar, etc. A limited response is evident by humans to the perception of eminent climatic collapse. Perhaps the easiest of these three to influence is the amount of sunlight energy converted to sugar. While about 0.5-5% of the sunlight energy hitting a leaf converts to sugars, etc., photovoltaic cells regularly convert 15% of their incident sunlight to electricity. If chloroplasts and plants could achieve 10% efficiency, it would increase the potential biomass; the potential amount of life on earth that could live sustainably, including human life.

Perhaps a virus improving the efficiency of the chloroplasts it infected, spread throughout the plant kingdom by an insect vector, could most easily enact this change.

Perhaps engineered phytoplanktons of many common marine species, photosynthesizing tenfold more efficiently, could be spread throughout the world's oceans, and grow and thrive, reducing atmospheric CO2 and increasing sealife, and thus restoring overfished fish stocks as well as marine biomass overall. If these could also fix nitrogen without iron, it would supercede yet another constraint on the biosphere, and perhaps allow earth's humans to dodge climatic collapse.

Some interesting related work.

Above illustration from The Function of the Aerenchyma in Arborescent Lycopsids: Evidence of an Unfamiliar Metabolic Strategy


Walton A. Green

1 comment:

Brian Cady said...

Could one accelerate Synechococcus photosynthesis by replacing RuBisCO-based carbon fixation pathway genes with those of the 3-hydroxypropionate pathway found in Chloroflexus? In this way a modified Synechococcus would avoid photorespiration's RuBisCO-oxygen interactions, and the associated energy and nitrogen costs. I do understand that the 3HOP pathway is not as energetically as favorable as the Calvin cycle, but wonder if avoiding RuBisCO's problems could make it worthwhile. This might lead to a Synechococcus better adapted to the hot, oxygen-rich, sunlit surface of tropical oceans, where it might fix CO2 more rapidly, countering industrial CO2 emission.