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Linking bioenergetics to everyday challenges

Linking bioenergetics research to everyday challenges
Our dependence on fossil fuels is complex and it’s increasing. We need a sustainable solution. What about using the sun’s energy to power our cars? We already use the sun’s energy to create electricity, but it’s difficult to store and it isn’t available on demand. So we need a liquid fuel.
Here’s the idea: plants make liquid fuels from sunlight using a chemical reaction. But they’re not very good at it, so scientists are trying to make an improved version of this process using artificial leaves. If we could improve it to make fuel more efficiently, and pack all this fuel producing leave power into a much smaller space, we could have a bottomless supply of sustainably produced liquid fuels – that’s the big idea. Plants can’t solve all the world’s problems, but in the hands of some forward thinking scientists they could reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. And on the list of global problems worth addressing – that’s a big one.

All biochemical reactions involve changes in energy, as a result of the breaking and subsequent formation of chemical bonds. It is the biochemical field of bioenergetics that studies the transformation of energy into different forms.

Bioenergetics research is developing methods that will provide significant advances in allowing humans to tackle challenges related to energy production and climate change, which we highlight in relation to a few key points. To see further examples of related research being undertaken in the UK, see the associated video that has been produced by the BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council).


Through bioenergetics studies biochemists are able to understand how energy released during cellular metabolism can be used to “do work” that is useful for the cells e.g. movement of molecules, cells or organs or heating within a body. Similar types of studies and knowledge allow biochemists to appreciate how to harness energy from biological systems, or to make them more efficient. For example, the process of photosynthesis is inspiring solutions to the growing demand for sustainable energy, in the form of novel biofuels and advanced biotechnology products that can convert solar energy into a useful form.

Chemical Effects on the Environment

Nitrogen is a key component of all cells and it is required for them to be able to synthesise the amino acids of proteins and the nucleotides that are important for the synthesis of DNA and RNA. Therefore, the deeper appreciation of nitrogen metabolism that biochemists will supply will allow the generation of more efficient systems. Some microbes rely on anaerobic nitrate respiration, or denitrification pathways, to generate metabolic energy by using nitrate as a terminal electron acceptor of the electron transport chains. These denitrification pathways generate several intermediates, including nitric oxide and nitrous oxide, which are significant greenhouse gases.

© UEA and Biochemical Society, 2018. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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Biochemistry: the Molecules of Life

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