Because a system for converting CO2 into starch is more useful than we imagine

Because a system for converting CO2 into starch is more useful than we imagine

It could be the first step in a sustainable revolution in food production, but to be adopted on a large scale, energy consumption needs to be reduced to start it

(image: Pixabay) Better than nature, or almost. A Chinese team claims to have developed the first chemo-enzymatic system to obtain starch (the reserve sugar of plants and the main dietary carbohydrate) directly from carbon dioxide (CO 2), with an efficiency 8.5 times higher than that of photosynthesis. In the future, the researchers predict, we could produce starch in a similar way to what we do with beer, saving soil and water and reducing pollution from fertilizers and pesticides. The study is published in the journal Science.

More efficient than photosynthesis

Starch is the main reserve carbohydrate (or sugar) produced by plants, which through photosynthesis fix the carbon in the air (CO 2) into glucose molecules which they then assemble into starch as an energy supply. This natural system, which includes dozens of biochemical reactions, is estimated to have a conversion efficiency of just 2%.

Now, however, the team at the Tianjin Institute of Industrial Biotechnology (Tib) of the Chinese Academy of science (Cas) claims to have developed a system of only 11 chemo-enzymatic reactions that inside a bioreactor transform CO 2 into methanol and then into starch with an efficiency 8.5 times higher than that of corn plants . A method that could revolutionize the production of starch, with various benefits for humans and the environment.

From cultivation to industrial production

With the current setting, explains Cai Tao, who led the research, “the annual production of starch in a bioreactor of one cubic meter is equivalent in theory to the annual yield of one third of a hectare of corn, without considering the energy input ". In the future, it may be possible to meet our carbohydrate needs without agriculture.

This system could also save up to 90% of land and water resources, which should no longer be reserved for cultivation . And if there was no longer a need to cultivate, pollution from pesticides and fertilizers would also decrease. In short, there would be much to gain not only in terms of sustainability but also in food safety.

The artificial biological system developed by Chinese researchers, however, is not yet optimal: it takes a lot of energy to get it started and only when will be able to reduce the overall cost of the process and make it comparable to that of agricultural cultivation, we can really talk about applications.

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