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Future developments in bioenergy

Describes how biochemistry will play a key role in scientific developments in bioenergy over the next 20-50 years.
Mankind faces very many major global challenges at the moment. These include issues around global energy security, global food security and global water security. The study of biochemistry can help in many of these problems. Biochemistry is essentially a discipline that looks at the changes in energy in various forms of life. And there are many processes that we can use biochemistry to help improve energy harvesting, for example, the harvesting of light energy. We understand the harvesting of light energy much better as a consequence of understanding the biochemical molecules in plants - the proteins that are involved in harvesting that light energy.
By understanding better how to harvest light energy, we have a greater chance of being able to actually utilise that light energy in different ways as future energy sources for this world. Many bacteria in their energy inter conversions use biochemical enzymes to convert energy between different forms. If we can break into those processes we can actually harness bacteria, for example, to produce bioenergy, or a form of bioelectricity whereby bacteria can harness the biochemical pathways that they have in their cells to actually generate electricity from waste. We can conceive a future in which we apply our biochemical understanding to create solutions to some of these grand challenges.
Consider a future in which simple plants, such as mosses, can be modified to produce electricity and where that electricity is stored in batteries inspired in biology rather than being heavily reliant on heavy metals. Biochemists, working with engineers, are already striving to realise such advances. Global food inequalities need to be resolved. One way to address this is through enhanced food production by making plants more productive by increasing their resistance to natural pests or by increasing the tolerance of antagonistic environments, such as very dry or very salty environments. By such improvements, we enhance food production and reduce crop losses.
More subtly, we can make foods more nutritious, a great example of which is Golden Rice a strain of rice that has much higher levels of vitamin A. We know that the levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide are rising, and there are multiple approaches to carbon capture being explored. Some of these enlist the help of biology, directing CO2 to new plant products through photosynthesis, or by deposition in calcium carbonate in shells. It might be feasible to take the biological machines of photosynthesis out of the cell, and create engineering solutions that use the energy of sunlight to convert carbon dioxide to high value products that previously relied on synthesis from oil in less environmentally friendly processes.
These are just a few examples of the potential for natural processes to be enhanced and harnessed to ease our impact on planet Earth and to improve the wellbeing of the growing population. In these, and many other examples, there is a demand for skilled scientists who understand biochemistry in the pursuit of green solutions

Current global challenges include issues around global energy security, global food security and global water security. Here, we highlight how research involving biochemistry may be able to help identify solutions to some of these problems.

Professor David Richardson has been undertaking biochemistry research for nearly 30 years. In this film he describes his current research interests and explains how it has important implications for society. Professor Richardson is the Vice-Chancellor at UEA and he also leads a group of world-leading researchers based in the School of Biological Sciences at UEA. Details of some of his research is described in the web pages of the Nitric Oxide Research Alliance. A fuller description of Professor Richardson’s research is also available in the inaugural lecture that was delivered at UEA in 2016. (Note that this link takes you to a lecture that is about 75 minutes in length.)

Additional examples highlighted here include approaches to adapt plants to make foods more nutritious, and to develop them generate novel forms of high value products. These examples demonstrate a growing demand for skilled scientists who understand biochemistry because they will help develop new solutions to global challenges.

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Biochemistry: the Molecules of Life

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FutureLearn - Learning For Life

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