New ways to convert carbon dioxide (CO2) into methane gas for energy use are a step closer after scientists discovered how bacteria make a component that facilitates the process.
Recycling CO2 into energy has immense potential for making these emissions useful rather than a major factor in global warming. However, because the bacteria that can convert CO2 into methane, methanogens, are notoriously difficult to grow, their use in gas production remains limited.
This challenge inspired a team of scientists led by Professor Martin Warren, of the University of Kent's School of Biosciences, to investigate how a key molecule, coenzyme F430, is made in these bacteria.
Although F430 – the catalyst for the production process – is structurally very similar to the red pigment found in red blood cells (haem) and the green pigment found in plants (chlorophyll), the properties of this bright yellow coenzyme allow methanogenic bacteria to breathe in carbon dioxide and exhale methane.
By understanding how essential components of the process of biological methane production, methanogenesis, such as coenzyme F430 are made scientists are one step closer to being able to engineer a more effective and obliging methane-producing bacterium.
This research is a collaboration between laboratories in Kent, Germany, Manchester and Durham. The results are now published in the journal Nature.
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Note to editors
The research teams have shown that coenzyme F430 is made from the same starting molecular template from which haem and chlorophyll are derived, but uses a different suite of enzymes to convert this starting material into F430. Key to this process is the insertion of a metal ion, which is glued into the centre of the coenzyme.
If the process of biological methane production (methanogenesis) could be engineered into bacteria that are easier to grow, such as the microbe E. coli, then engineered strains could be employed to catch carbon dioxide emissions and convert them into methane for energy production.
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It has been ranked: 23rd in the Guardian University Guide 2017; 23rd in the Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2017; and 23rd in the Complete University Guide 2017.
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Kent is ranked 17th in the UK for research intensity (REF 2014). It has world-leading research in all subjects and 97% of its research is deemed by the REF to be of international quality.
In the National Student Survey 2016, Kent achieved the fourth highest score for overall student satisfaction, out of all publicly funded, multi-faculty universities.
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The University is worth £0.7 billion to the economy of the south east and supports more than 7,800 jobs in the region. Student off-campus spend contributes £293.3m and 2,532 full-time-equivalent jobs to those totals.
In 2014, Kent received its second Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education.
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