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Biotech Earth Science

Frog Foam Photosynthesis 21

Garrett Fox writes "University of Cincinnati researchers describe a method of getting photosynthesis from a high-surface-area foam containing enzymes that produce sugar using light and CO2 (abstract). Oddly, the foam itself is derived from a species of frog. More interesting is that the technique doesn't use whole cells or apparently even chloroplasts. The researchers claim 'chemical conversion efficiencies approaching 96%,' as well as tolerance for deliberately high-CO2 environments."
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Frog Foam Photosynthesis

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  • I wonder if this has implications for making closed ecological systems easier?

    Wikipedia claims that plants only have something like a 3-6% photosynthetic efficiency.

  • Misleading headline (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jfengel ( 409917 ) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @01:33PM (#31524962) Homepage Journal

    TFA is so brief that we might as well just post it:

    We present a cell-free artificial photosynthesis platform that couples the requisite enzymes of the Calvin cycle with a nanoscale photophosphorylation system engineered into a foam architecture using the Tngara frog surfactant protein Ranaspumin-2. This unique protein surfactant allowed lipid vesicles and coupled enzyme activity to be concentrated to the microscale Plateau channels of the foam, directing photoderived chemical energy to the singular purpose of carbon fixation and sugar synthesis, with chemical conversion efficiencies approaching 96%.

    If I'm reading that right, the frog connection isn't really part of the photosynthesis cycle. It's there to provide more surface area and channel the various bits of the reaction together, but the reaction itself is well known. It's part of the regular plant-based photosynthesis.

    So it's a nice bit of chemical engineering, but the headline "frog foam photosynthesis" is deeply misleading: the frogs don't photosynthesize, and one of their chemicals is being put to a novel purpose.

    • by Mathinker ( 909784 ) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @02:09PM (#31525430) Journal

      TFA is actually a six-page article behind a paywall, but everyone can get a 13 page PDF with the supplementary information, (most of which is pretty Greek to me as a non-bio geek) behind the "Supporting Info" link [].

      If I read the article correctly, this research group had already got 95% efficiency using a different kind of foam, it's just that this frog-protein-foam enables more sugar to be generated before the foam breaks. OTOH, I'm pretty sure I'm not really qualified to even have an opinion.

      And judging from the summary of the article, the researchers are not expecting this to be able to be more efficient than the most efficient plants. So that 95% number is just not comparable to the maybe 10% photosynthetic yield of the best plants from sunlight because it's measuring something different.

      • Unfortunately, that link is basically a "materials and methods" section. Anybody got $30 to dump?

        Off topic - I just hate it when we get links like this and further I hate it when the idiot publishers want anywhere between $30 and $50 to just look at a single article. If it was a more reasonable value, say $5, I might just go ahead and pay it - but the current pricing structure is just too steep to make a whole lot of sense.
      • by dan828 ( 753380 ) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @02:28PM (#31525710)

        OTOH, I'm pretty sure I'm not really qualified to even have an opinion.

        You must be new here.

    • by bruce_the_moose ( 621423 ) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @02:35PM (#31525840)
      University of Cincinnati [] article about frog foam and photsynthesis.
      • YES! That article is definitely interesting. Thanks for posting that.

      • by fatray ( 160258 )
        That is an interesting article, but it talks about trapping the algae in the foam, while TFA talks about just trapping the enzymes in the foam without algae cells. Either way, this is pretty interesting stuff. Trapping the algae in the foam means that you lose energy to the algae maintaining itself, but going the cell-free way means that you have to come up with the enzymes needed to start the process and to make up enzyme losses.
  • first (Score:4, Funny)

    by circletimessquare ( 444983 ) <circletimessquare&gmail,com> on Thursday March 18, 2010 @02:22PM (#31525586) Homepage Journal

    you lick the frog...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by gbjbaanb ( 229885 )

      .. licking the frog is ok. You see, we use only the finest baby frogs, dew-picked and flown from Iraq, cleansed in the finest quality spring water, lightly killed, and then sealed in a succulent Swiss quintuple smooth treble cream milk chocolate envelope, and lovingly frosted with glucose.

      I guess with this frog-based foam, they've just put the finishing touches on the lightest of sugary whipped fondant frog confection.

  • If it decays after a couple minutes, I will not be impressed.

  • Hrm... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by blue l0g1c ( 1007517 )

    So frog foam converts light and CO2 into sugar, and yeast converts sugar to alcohol and CO2, it stands to reason that light is alcohol. Now I understand why they call it Light Beer!

  • Phenomenally fantastic!

  • They say "96% efficient" but they are talking about the efficiency of converting from "captured solar energy" to "chemical energy". By "captured solar energy" biologists usually are talking about the "quantum efficiency" of photosynthesis -- that is -- the percent of photon energy converted into electron energy available for the chemical conversion process. So, if you have a 100% quantum efficiency, the total photosynthetic efficiency will be 96% but if your quantum efficiency is 1% then total photosynthe

If I had only known, I would have been a locksmith. -- Albert Einstein