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A synthetic biology approach to engineering living photovoltaics

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      Abstract

      Engineering extracellular electron transfer pathways in cyanobacteria for biophotovoltaic applications.

      The ability to electronically interface living cells with electron accepting scaffolds is crucial for the development of next-generation biophotovoltaic technologies. Although recent studies have focused on engineering synthetic interfaces that can maximize electronic communication between the cell and scaffold, the efficiency of such devices is limited by the low conductivity of the cell membrane. This review provides a materials science perspective on applying a complementary, synthetic biology approach to engineering membrane–electrode interfaces. It focuses on the technical challenges behind the introduction of foreign extracellular electron transfer pathways in bacterial host cells and past and future efforts to engineer photosynthetic organisms with artificial electron-export capabilities for biophotovoltaic applications. The article highlights advances in engineering protein-based, electron-exporting conduits in a model host organism, E. coli, before reviewing state-of-the-art biophotovoltaic technologies that use both unmodified and bioengineered photosynthetic bacteria with improved electron transport. A thermodynamic analysis is used to propose an energetically feasible pathway for extracellular electron transport in engineered cyanobacteria and identify metabolic bottlenecks amenable to protein engineering techniques. Based on this analysis, an engineered photosynthetic organism expressing a foreign, protein-based electron conduit yields a maximum theoretical solar conversion efficiency of 6–10% without accounting for additional bioengineering optimizations for light-harvesting.

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      Lessons from nature about solar light harvesting.

      Solar fuel production often starts with the energy from light being absorbed by an assembly of molecules; this electronic excitation is subsequently transferred to a suitable acceptor. For example, in photosynthesis, antenna complexes capture sunlight and direct the energy to reaction centres that then carry out the associated chemistry. In this Review, we describe the principles learned from studies of various natural antenna complexes and suggest how to elucidate strategies for designing light-harvesting systems. We envisage that such systems will be used for solar fuel production, to direct and regulate excitation energy flow using molecular organizations that facilitate feedback and control, or to transfer excitons over long distances. Also described are the notable properties of light-harvesting chromophores, spatial-energetic landscapes, the roles of excitonic states and quantum coherence, as well as how antennas are regulated and photoprotected.
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        Interdependence of cell growth and gene expression: origins and consequences.

        In bacteria, the rate of cell proliferation and the level of gene expression are intimately intertwined. Elucidating these relations is important both for understanding the physiological functions of endogenous genetic circuits and for designing robust synthetic systems. We describe a phenomenological study that reveals intrinsic constraints governing the allocation of resources toward protein synthesis and other aspects of cell growth. A theory incorporating these constraints can accurately predict how cell proliferation and gene expression affect one another, quantitatively accounting for the effect of translation-inhibiting antibiotics on gene expression and the effect of gratuitous protein expression on cell growth. The use of such empirical relations, analogous to phenomenological laws, may facilitate our understanding and manipulation of complex biological systems before underlying regulatory circuits are elucidated.
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          Microbial Fuel Cells   Methodology and Technology†

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            Author and article information

            Journal
            EESNBY
            Energy & Environmental Science
            Energy Environ. Sci.
            Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC)
            1754-5692
            1754-5706
            2017
            2017
            : 10
            : 5
            : 1102-1115
            10.1039/C7EE00282C
            © 2017
            Product
            Self URI (article page): http://xlink.rsc.org/?DOI=C7EE00282C

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