Discovered enzyme that can turn air into energy

By extracting and studying the enzyme, the researchers say they have found a new energy source that could power a range of small portable electrical devices.

Scientists studying a relative of the bacteria that cause tuberculosis and leprosy can create an enzyme that converts hydrogen into electricity and can be used to create a new source of clean energy from thin air.

Discovered enzyme that can turn air into energy
Scanning electron microscope image of a bacterium that can use atmospheric hydrogen to generate an electric current.

The enzyme, named Huc , is used by the bacterium Mycobacterium smegmatis to derive energy from atmospheric hydrogen, allowing it to survive in harsh, nutrient-poor environments.

Lead author Rhys Griter, a microbiologist at Monash University in Australia, said: “When you give Huc more concentrated hydrogen, it generates more current. That means you can use its battery for more complex devices, like smartwatches or smartphones, laptops, and maybe even cars.”

M. smegmatis is a fast-growing, non-pathogenic bacterium commonly used in the laboratory to study the cell wall structure of its close, pathogenic relative, Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

Commonly found in soil around the world, M. smegmatis has long been known for its ability to convert hydrogen in the air into energy. In this way, bacteria can survive in the most extreme environments, including Antarctic soil, craters and deep oceans, where very little other fuel can be found, the researchers suggest. know.

By shining electrons onto a frozen sample of Huc collected from M. smegmatis, the researchers mapped out the enzyme’s atomic structure and the electrical pathways it uses to carry electrons to form an electric current.

Further experiments revealed that the isolated Huc enzyme could be stored for long periods of time; that it persists when frozen or heated up to 80 degrees Celsius. It can consume hydrogen in concentrations as small as 0.00005% of the concentrations found in the air we breathe.

These properties, along with the bacteria’s ubiquity and ability to grow easily, could make the enzyme an ideal candidate for an energy source in organic batteries, the researchers say.