SULFUR SCAVENGING BACTERIA SAVES THE WORLD?
Everything you need to know about the cutting edge discovery
Did you think that 2020 is the year of bad news only? Well, scientists found out a fresher and cleaner way to make the key component of plastic, ethylene.
WHAT IS ETHYLENE?
Ethylene, or simply is a carbon component that is one of the most useful ones in the world. How is it formed conventionally? It is produced on a big scale through a process called STEAM CRACKING of a range of hydrocarbon feedstocks.
WHAT DID THE SCIENTISTS FIND?
It was believed by scientists that NITROGENASE, a 3.2 billion-year-old enzyme, only converts nitrogen into ammonia. This is a crucial process to make Earth a habitable planet. But recently, a group of researchers discovered that it can do something more. It was found that the enzyme can be used to create a more ecologically sound method for the production of plastic.
WHAT DOES NITROGENASE DO?
Nitrogenase is found in a soil-dwelling bacteria, known as the Rhodospirillum rubrum. When revealed to an anaerobic environment, this bacteria converts sulfur into ethylene extensively.
This phenomenon was completely unknown previously.
(Does anyone else smell a Nobel?)
HEROES BEHIND THIS
The journey began at Ohio State University. John North decided to measure the number of gasses that were given out by the bacteria when it was starved for sulfur. To his surprise, ethylene was detected.
“We know these bacteria are producing hydrogen and consuming carbon dioxide. But, lo and behold, they were making copious amounts of ethylene gas. And we thought, well, that’s weird.”
Kinda cool for a microbiologist, right?
But a different kind of high-tech machinery was required to study the link between the enzymes and the pathway. So North, along with his team leader, Robert Tabita reached out to Bob Hettich. Bob leads the Biological Mass Spectrometry Group at ORNL. Hettich and Weili found a family of nitrogenase-like proteins. They were almost 50 times more abundant in the low-sulfur, ethylene-producing samples.
This groundbreaking discovery could help scientists produce plastic using ethylene instead of fossil fuels. If everything turns out as it should, it will be a huge relief for the planet. This is because fossil fuels are difficult to handle and hard on the environment.
The world also faces a problem because farmers do not know how much ethylene should be used for treating plants. If used too little, it shows very little effect. If used too much, it destroys the crop. This discovery can help farmers understand the optimal range in which ethylene should be used.
A lot of studies still need to be taken place before confirming how viable and extensive this finding can be.