Removing massive amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere is a challenge that, until the end of the century, must be overcome by humanity so that climate catastrophes do not make life on Earth more difficult than it already is. Solutions proposed so far may be effective from a certain perspective, but all require high investments in the production of energy and equipment, as well as materials that are not so easy to obtain, such as hydrogen – which makes them unfeasible, for the time being.
However, a group of European scientists has taken an unprecedented approach that can change the course of this story. They devised novel metabolic pathways capable of incorporating gases into cellular reactions at levels never seen before.
Considering that, in nature, there is nothing that combines all the elements necessary for an application of this type, implementing a project of this magnitude is an extremely complex task.
It is true that similar functions that are much less potent, spread over several stages in different reactions, are part of the routine of structural and functional units of living beings, but, taking into account the level of effectiveness and the capacity to capture expected pollutants, they are only foundations for bolder theories.
Once the most common chemical substances present in cells and intermediate stages of CO2 consumption were identified, it was necessary to detect which enzymes could handle the material – and that is what the researchers dedicated themselves to, precisely to build something that, in theory, would fit the evolution.
Three steps are necessary for the occurrence of metabolic pathways, in which each provides, through the action of enzymes, the necessary substrate for the next; of the 11 substances evaluated by the team, some natural and others artificial, two acted in an acceptable way.
In any case, it is necessary to point out that amino acids that participate in these processes are “programmed” to end enzymatic activities after a certain action, which limits what they can do. With this in mind, the researchers changed them so that they would not “stop” as mandated by the protocol, thus increasing their performances from 30% to 60%, depending on the approach.
In the second stage, things got a little more complicated, and the only discovery was an activity “very low, but measurable” of a set of enzymes that underwent intervention. From the assembly of a real puzzle of this variety, they identified a shape with three mutations with activity 50 times more potent.
In other words, the improved “useful life” would allow to capture much more carbon from the atmosphere.