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Cornell bioengineer Buz Barstow, Ph.D. ’09, is trying to solve a big problem: How to build a low-cost, environmentally friendly and large-scale system for storing and retrieving energy from renewable sources such as wind and solar. Currently, there are no sustainable methods for storing green energy, as batteries are environmentally toxic.
The answer may come in a small package; a bacteria called Shewanella oneidensis. The microbe takes electrons into its metabolism and uses the energy to make essential precursors for ‘fixing’ carbon, which occurs when plants or organisms take carbon from CO2 and add it to an organic molecule, usually a sugar. Barstow is working towards engineering a new bacteria that goes a step further by using those precursor molecules to make organic molecules, such as biofuels.
A new study, “Identification of a Pathway for Electron Uptake in Shewanella oneidensis,” published Aug. 11 in Communications Biology, describes for the first time a mechanism in Shewanella that allows the microbe to take energy into its system for use in its metabolism.