Genetically engineered blood protein used to split water into oxygen and hydrogen


Written on Friday, December 01, 2006 by Gemini

SCIENTISTS HAVE combined two molecules that occur naturally in blood to engineer a new molecule that uses solar energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, says research published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

The breakthrough may pave the way for the development of novel ways of creating hydrogen gas for use as fuel in the future. Professors Tsuchida and Komatsu from Waseda University, Japan, in collaboration with Imperial College London, synthesised a large molecular complex from albumin, a protein molecule that is found at high levels in blood, and porphyrin, a molecule which is used to carry oxygen around the body and gives blood its deep red colour. Porphyrin molecules are normally found combined with metals, and in their natural state in the blood they have an iron atom at their centre. The scientists modified the porphyrin molecule to swap the iron for a zinc atom in the middle, which completely changed the characteristics of the molecule.

This modified porphyrin molecule was then combined with albumin and the resulting molecular complex could capture light energy in a way that allows water molecules to be split into molecules of hydrogen and oxygen.

Dr Stephen Curry, a structural biologist from Imperial College London, who participated in the research explains: “This work has shown that it is possible to manipulate molecules and proteins that occur naturally in the human body by changing one small detail of their make-up, such as the type of metal at the heart of a porphyrin molecule, as we did in this study.”

“It’s very exciting to prove that we can use these biological structures to harness solar energy to separate water out into hydrogen and oxygen. In the long term, these synthetic molecules may provide a more environmentally friendly way of producing hydrogen, which can be used as a ‘green’ fuel.”

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