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The University of Southampton
Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton

Research project: Plug and Play Photosynthesis for RuBisCO Independent Fuels

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Increasing the efficiency of photosynthesis would represent a major scientific advance that could be targeted towards providing solutions for the food, energy, and environmental challenges of the future.

PnP concept
PnP concept

Phototrophs convert sunlight and carbon dioxide into chemical energy, but photosynthesis evolved to optimize biological fitness rather than human fuel production. Under excess light, Ribulose 1,5-Bisphosphate Carboxylase/Oxygenase (RuBisCO), the enzyme catalyzing the rate limiting step in CO2 fixation, becomes saturated. Its metabolic pathway, the Calvin Cycle is down-regulated and most of the light energy absorbed is lost as heat.

We seek to capture some of this excess light energy for the production of fuels. Our strategy is to create a trans-cellular, plug-and-play platform that allows us to shunt electrons from photosynthetic source cells to independently engineered fuel production modules along nanowires; these could be microbial based, partly or even totally synthetic in the long term. The project represents a radical approach to augment and surpass photosynthetic strategies observed in nature by engineering modular division of labour through electrical connectivity. The modularity of this system will enable the parallel development of components that in combination will surpass the performance of natural photosynthetic systems.

Project funded by the BBSRC and NSF
Jones, Bayer, Bibby, Cronin, Golbeck, Kramer, Matsumura (2012) Plug and play photosynthesis Chemistry & Industry, 76(9); 42-45.


This project seeks to improve the efficiency of photosynthesis, and to engineer the process to produce higher value fuels. The technical goal is to shunt otherwise unused electron equivalents produced under high-light conditions away from RuBisCO in photosynthetic source cells, through extracellular nanowires, and finally to independently engineered fuel production cells. This trans-cellular, plug-and-play platform will enable the engineering of the light and dark parts of photosynthesis, as well as the conductive (bio)wire between them, in isolation. The project will provide proof of principle that energy can be transferred directly between cells as bio-electricity. Furthermore, the biowire to be developed will serve as a future generic connector for electrically interfacing distinct cell types to create novel, functional biofilms. The photosynthetic components constructed in this project will serve as prototypes to establish a new design paradigm.

Key Contacts

Dr Tom Bibby
Dr Andy Hitchcock

PhDs and Other Opportunities


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