Genetically engineered blood protein can be used to split water into oxygen and hydrogen

December 1, 2006
Genetically engineered blood protein can be used to split water into oxygen and hydrogen

Scientists have combined two molecules that occur naturally in blood to engineer a molecular complex that uses solar energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, says research published today in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

This molecular complex can use energy from the sun to create hydrogen gas, providing an alternative to electrolysis, the method typically used to split water into its constituent parts. The breakthrough may pave the way for the development of novel ways of creating hydrogen gas for use as fuel in the future.

Professors Tsuchida and Komatsu from Waseda University, Japan, in collaboration with Imperial College London, synthesised a large molecular complex from albumin, a protein molecule that is found at high levels in blood serum, and porphyrin, a molecule which is used to carry oxygen around the body and gives blood its deep red colour. Porphyrin molecules are normally found combined with metals, and in their natural state in the blood they have an iron atom at their centre. The scientists modified the porphyrin molecule to swap the iron for a zinc atom in the middle, which completely changed the chemistry and characteristics of the molecule.

This modified porphyrin molecule was then combined with albumin; with the albumin molecule itself being modified by genetic engineering to enhance the efficiency of the process. The resulting molecular complex was proven to be sensitive to light, and can capture light energy in a way that allows water molecules to be split into molecules of hydrogen and oxygen.

Dr Stephen Curry, a structural biologist from Imperial College London's Division of Cell and Molecular Biology who participated in the research explains: "This work has shown that it is possible to manipulate molecules and proteins that occur naturally in the human body by changing one small detail of their make-up, such as the type of metal at the heart of a porphyrin molecule, as we did in this study.

"It's very exciting to prove that we can use these biological structures as a conduit to harness solar energy to separate water out into hydrogen and oxygen. In the long term, these synthetic molecules may provide a more environmentally friendly way of producing hydrogen, which can be used as a 'green' fuel."

Source: Imperial College London

Explore further: Coming to a monitor near you: A defect-free, molecule-thick film

Related Stories

Atom-sized craters make a catalyst much more active

November 24, 2015

Bombarding and stretching an important industrial catalyst opens up tiny holes on its surface where atoms can attach and react, greatly increasing its activity as a promoter of chemical reactions, according to a study by ...

Plant defense as a biotech tool

November 24, 2015

Against voracious beetles or caterpillars plants protect themselves with cyanide. Certain enzymes release the toxic substance when the plant is chewed. These HNL-called enzymes are also important for industry. acib found ...

Recommended for you

NASA's space-station resupply missions to relaunch

November 29, 2015

NASA's commercial space program returns to flight this week as one of its private cargo haulers, Orbital ATK, is to launch its first supply shipment to the International Space Station in more than 13 months.

CERN collides heavy nuclei at new record high energy

November 25, 2015

The world's most powerful accelerator, the 27 km long Large Hadron Collider (LHC) operating at CERN in Geneva established collisions between lead nuclei, this morning, at the highest energies ever. The LHC has been colliding ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.