“Cyborg” bacteria grows its own solar panels, harnesses light better than chlorophyll

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In California, researchers have developed “cyborg” bacteria that act like tiny solar panels and produce the industrially important chemical acetic acid.

Using Moorella thermoacetica, University of California-Berkeley scientists were able to overcome the limitations of photosynthesis—the naturally occurring but inefficient process by which plants produce nutrients from sunlight and water. When fed cadmium and cysteine, M. thermoacetica produced cadmium sulfide crystals, which allowed the bacteria to harness solar energy with 80% efficiency.

“Rather than rely on inefficient chlorophyll to harvest sunlight, I’ve taught bacteria how to grow and cover their bodies with tiny semiconductor nanocrystals,” says Dr. Kelsey K. Sakimoto. ”These nanocrystals are much more efficient than chlorophyll and can be grown at a fraction of the cost of manufactured solar panels.”

The work was presented at the American Chemical Society meeting in Washington earlier this month.