One of the largest drivers of climate change is the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide traps heat and can persist in the atmosphere for thousands of years, making it a major problem.
In order to control climate change, we need to control the amount of carbon dioxide being released. A recent study by researchers at the University of Florida has shown that deep-sea bacteria may hold the answer to this.
The bacteria in question is Thiomicrospira crunogena, a species of bacteria that lives around deep-sea vents and converts carbon dioxide and water into bicarbonate, a molecule that can easily be made into baking soda. The reaction occurs thanks to the enzyme carbonic anhydrase. This enzyme could be used in industrial settings to greatly reduce carbon emissions.
The enzyme carbonic anhydrase is common among other organisms but what’s special about this form is that it’s present in Thiomicrospira crunogena. This bacterium naturally lives near scalding hot deep-sea vents, so it has acquired adaptations that allow it to live there.
One of these is key changes is in the structure of its proteins, including that of carbonic anhydrase which allows it maintain its shape in hot temperatures. Normally proteins get denatured in the heat and lose their structure and function as a result, rendering them useless.
This is important because it would allow this enzyme to still be able to function in the hot temperatures of industrial factories where other members of the carbonic anhydrase group of enzymes could not. The problem is that huge amounts of this bacteria would be needed in order to significantly reduce the volume of carbon being emitted by factories.
Fortunately, there may be an answer in the form of another, more familiar bacteria, E. coli. Instead of going back to the ocean floor to collect more carbonic anhydrase, scientists can insert the gene for the enzyme into E. coli cells and have them produce it, hopefully in large quantities.
The team has already created a few milligrams of bicarbonate from carbon dioxide using the enzyme. More research is required to both find ways to produce the enzyme in mass quantities and to find ways to speed up its reaction time.
The reaction between carbon dioxide and water using the enzyme is fairly inefficient compared to action of other enzymes, so the team hopes to come up with a variant one that works even faster to efficiently reduce carbon dioxide.