AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: photosynthesis

Photosynthesis and Climate

With the recent wild fires in Australia, climate change has been on everyone’s mind. According to the US Energy Information Administration, climate change is in part due to the excessive greenhouse gas emissions, 76% of which come from the burning of fossil fuels.

The greenhouse effect is when heat is trapped near the earths surface by greenhouse gases. There are natural green house gases like carbon dioxide from humans which raise the average temperature of the earth from around 0 degrees to 50, yet since we have continuously been burning more and more carbon dioxide through things like burning fossil fuels, the temperature of the earth keeps rising. Luckily, a group of researchers found a way to try to reduce that number.

A group of researchers tried to imitate photosynthesis by taking energy from the sun to generate chemical fuels, and were successful. Photosynthesis is the process that plants use in order to create food, and ultimately energy from the sun. In order to complete this conversion, H2O must be broken down and the hydrogen atoms must attach to carbon. Then eight electrons and four protons must be added to one molecule of carbon. Even with all these steps, the newly developed copper-iron based catalyst is what makes this process actually work. The carbon and iron “hold onto by their carbon and oxygen atoms“, which allows for enough time for hydrogen  to attach to the carbon.

The process would create a significant change in the amount of greenhouse gas emission if done on a large scale. For this to happen, a artificial photosynthesis panel would have to connect to a source of CO2. While this strategy would be financially costly, the reward for our earth would far surpass any monetary value.

To read more about this research and how it can help our earth, click here.

GOC Bypass… The Future of Food?

For years, scientists have been trying to find ways to avoid the imminent world food shortage crisis. Is there a scientific breakthrough that could help the world get more grain yield in plants and help avoid a worldwide food shortage? These are questions that farmers and scientists around the world have been trying to find the solution to for decades. Professor Xin-Xiang Peng, of South China Agricultural University, and his team believe that they have found the answer, a process they call the GOC Bypass method.

Professor Xin-Xiang Peng and his team conducted thorough research on rice plants, specifically, and tried to find a way to further maximize their grain yields. Peng and his team believe that with the growing population of the world and less useable cultivatable soil, scientists must find a way to maximize grain yield, in order to produce more food. After intensive research, Peng and his partner, Zheng-Hui He, believe that they have found a way to partially bypass a process called photorespiration and reuse the materials used in photorespiration in photosynthesis. This process is called GOC Bypass. Xiang and his team bioengineered the CO2 to be diverted from photorespiration and to instead be used during photosynthesis, causing increased grain yield.

Peng and He discovered that bioengineered rice plants have a 27% greater grain yield than normal rice plants. To achieve this, they converted a molecule called glycolate, which is a product of photorespiration, and converted it to CO2, using three rice enzymes: glycolate oxidase, oxalate oxidase, and catalase (AKA GOC). The CO2 was then diverted to photosynthesis, which was able to, in turn, create a higher grain yield as the photorespiration in the rice plants went down by approximately 25% and the net photosynthetic rate increased by about 15%, due to the higher concentrations of CO2 being able to be used for photosynthesis. Thus, increasing the grain yield in rice plants and harvesting more food from the same crop.

Biologically engineering food has been around for most of the 2000’s, but the GOC Bypass method is a new method that could potentially help combat the need for more food, due to the population growth and the decrease of cultivatable land. Peng and He’s research is promising, but it is still in its early stage. So, only time will tell if the GOC Bypass method will be of any use to mankind in the future and if this process can be used with a variety of different crops.

What do you think? Could the GOC Bypass method help solve the worlds emerging food crisis? Only time will tell.

The research is from Zheng-Hui He, Xin-Xiang Peng’s Engineering a New Chloroplastic Photorespiratory Bypass to Increase Photosynthetic Efficiency and Productivity in Rice, at the South China Agricultural University. The research was published by the Molecular Plant Shanghai Editorial Office in association with Cell Press, an imprint of Elsevier Inc., on behalf of CSPB and IPPE, SIBS, CAS.




Is Photosynthesis the Key to World Hunger?

With a global human population growth of about 83 million annually, one of the most pressing questions of the 21st century is how we will support our ever expanding population. A central study apart of the RIPE (Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency) International project may have found a key contributor to the solution.

Photosynthesis functions using an enzyme Rubisco and sunlight to turn carbon dioxide and water into sugars and oxygen. Overtime, Rubisco has created our oxygen rich environment, and now is unable to discern accurately between molecules of oxygen and molecules of carbon dioxide. 20% of the time Rubisco will grab oxygen instead of carbon dioxide, creating a toxic substance which must be recycled through a process known as photorespiration. Scientists from the University of Illinois and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service reported that plants engineered with photorespiratory shortcuts are 40% more productive in real life situations.

Currently being tested with genetically modifying tobacco plants, experts hope to apply this technology to food related crops within the next ten years. This represents a massive feat for addressing world hunger, as 200 million people could be fed with the calories lost to photorespiration in the midwest United States alone. RIPE and sponsors such a the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have pledged to allow small farmers (especially in sub-saharan Africa and Southeast Asia) free access to any project discoveries.

Would you eat food made from natural gas?

Methane Gas

Every since we were little we have been told that plants are a source of food and energy created by photosynthesis.  Humans eat plants and we eat animals that eat plants.  This is how energy is passed on, but what if I told you there was a way to get energy not from plants but from gas?  Seems kind of gross, right?

Michael Le Page wrote an article on the biotechnology company, Calysta, that has been working to use natural gas as forms of food for different animals.   They experiment with creating feed for farmed fish.  The process of creating this feed requires microbes that are put in a big area with methane.  Microbes feed off the methane and convert the digested methane into energy.  At the biotechnology company they specifically used a type of bacteria called Methlyococcus capsulatus which feeds off of the methane.  This process releases energy that can then be combined with other molecules to create food.  What is the point of this process?

This process of creating energy and food in a different way compared to photosynthesis has both positive and negative effects.  The reason for preforming such a strategy is to decrease a demand for land use (for example all of the farms used to grow plants and other crops), and to lower the amount of water used.  Another positive is the way in which methane is being used to create this feed.  Normally, in order to rid of methane it is just burned, but the way in which it is used for microbes to feed on it is much more productive and less wasteful.  Methane is a green house gas and is bad for the environment.  Instead of just burning it these studies have shown that it can be a useful source of food.  On the negative side using methane gas to produce energy results in the emission a lot of CO2.  CO2 is a also a greenhouse gas that increases the earths temperature, and adds to the problem of global warming.

Fish Farm

This process of creating feed when microbes convert methane to food has been pretty successful; some farm animals are eating this feed.  You never know, maybe one day humans will be eating food made from natural gases.  It really depends on where the world puts its priorities due to both negative and positive outcomes of the process.  What do you think is our most important priority?  Should factories go ahead and make this feed, despite the high levels of CO2 released?



Coral Reef Bleaching Puts Fish’s Ability to “Just Keep Swimming” in Danger

Coral reefs are vital sources of life for many sea creatures. The diversity of the underwater ecosystems surrounding coral reefs are, unfortunately, being put in danger because of coral bleaching. According to the National Ocean Service, coral bleaching is due in part by a process that is the result of damaged chloroplasts in coral cells which produce “toxic, highly reactive oxygen molecules during photosynthesis.” The main cause of this issue, is temperature; the coral respond to the drastic changes in temperature, whether they be hot or cold, by releasing the symbiotic algae that dwell in their tissues, which result in the coral taking on a white, “bleached” color.

Found on Flickr, Licensed under Creative Commons Licensing

Coral bleaching has both negative internal and external effects. Internally, the coral’s ecosystems are placed at risk because they “rely on live coral for food, shelter, or recruitment habitat.” This is a major issue, as we have the potential to lose certain, diverse, species that live off of and around coral reefs, which, in turn, could negatively influence the food chain. The external effect is that there will not be tourism revenue brought in from people who scuba dive to the coral reefs affected by bleaching. This is due to the fact that they will no longer be aesthetically appealing. Thus, leading to a negative economic state in tourism hot spots.

Unfortunately, the temperature of the Earth is out of human control, so there is little we can do to prevent coral bleaching, but we can use the rapidity of the bleaching as a marker to gauge the temperature of the world.

Colorless Coral?

Screen shot 2013-09-24 at 9.51.23 PM on flickr

When one usually thinks of a coral reef they think of bright vibrant colors… this may not be the case anymore. A recent study has found that climate change may be depleting coral of its color. In a process called “bleaching” the color is removed from the coral when the symbiotic algae that provide nutrients to the coral either lose their  photosynthetic pigmentation and their ability to perform photosynthesis or disappear entirely from the coral’s tissue.

While this strange and disturbing phenomenon has been receiving a lot of attention, there is very little concrete knowledge about the exact molecular process that causes the bleaching. Many hypothesized that the bleaching is a result chloroplast damage due to heat stress, which results in the production of toxic, highly reactive oxygen molecules during photosynthesis, they are linking the origin of the heat stress back to climate change.

To test this theory a team of researchers from Carnegie led by Arthur Grossman and accompanied by a few other scientist from Stanford conducted a study that resulted in the surprising discovery that the bleaching occurs when the algae is not performing photosynthesis, while it is surprising the team also concluded that it could be beneficial to aid in the fight against coral decline. “This is surprising since it means that toxic oxygen molecules formed in heat-damaged chloroplasts during photosynthetic reactions during the light are likely not the major culprits that cause bleaching.” (

While their initially theory was incorrect, this research has now motivated further study into the  molecular functions of coral as well as further efforts toward coral preservation.

Bacteria Makes Fuel?

      Now if you’re like me, you have been expressing some concern as to where we are going to get energy in the upcoming years.  The increasing price of oil and the inefficiencies of solar power definitely cause some reason to worry.  Lucky f0r us, a new development at the University of California, Davis, might just solve all of our problems.

Shota Atsumi and his team at UC Davis made ground breaking research in Cyanobacteria that could lead to a solution to our energy problems. This Blue-Green bacteria uses sunlight and carbon dioxide to create 2, 3 butanediol, which is a chemical that can be used to create paint, solvents, plastics and even fuel.  The Scientists identified the enzymes that carried out the reactions that they wanted, and “introduced the DNA for these enzymes into the cells.”  While the experiment was deemed unpredictable at first because they were unsure how enzymes would work in different organisms, the end result was that the Cyanobacteria yielded 2.4 grams of 2, 3 butanediol per liter of growth medium.  This is a groundbreaking experiment because these scientists may have possibly taken the first steps to solving our energy crisis.  Imagine, we may be able create fuel and other resources by simply using the power of the Sun!


What do you guys think about this? Comment below.


Single Molecule Solar Cell

Photo by Vermont-USA Anna Strumillo

In a recent study, German scientists Joachim Reichert, Johannes Barth, Alexander Holleitner, and Itai Carmeli came up with a way to measure photocurrents of a single functionalized  photosynthetic protein system.

What does this mean exactly?

These proteins can be used like electron pumps that can trap energy from the light and use it to power certain nanoscale electrocal circuits.

These scientists studied Photosystem 1 and like plants use photosynthesis to take rays of light and convert them to energy, these proteins covert solar rays into chemical energy that can be used in much the same way.

This discovery is still in its early stages and if perfected can be life changing. If they can create this system on a larger scale, light would be much easier to trap and use as energy than todays solar panels. This discovery is very interesting because we need alternative sources of energy that can be used sooner rather than later. If we can perfect this method it can be very beneficial to this planet because it is not harmful to the environment.

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