More and more frequently the edges
of me dissolve and I become
a wish to assimilate the world, including
you, if possible through the skin
like a cool plant’s tricks with oxygen
and live by a harmless green burning
(Margaret Atwood, More and more)
As you may or may not have realized, I tend not to talk about published science here. Frankly, wittering about research isn’t exactly thrilling, and by the time I get around to it lots of nice people have already covered it anyway. Besides, these days I get paid to do it, which actually is rather nice. No, I’d much rather talk about the human side of being a scientist, or sciencey stuff as it affects me or other people. I tend to waffle a bit.
But I saw a paper today that is begging to be blogged. It’s not peer-reviewed research though so don’t run away screaming just yet.
‘Not peer-reviewed?’ I hear you gasp, ‘What manner of madness is this?’ Settle down. We’re talking Nature Precedings: which as far as I can tell is somewhere you can publish any old preliminary crap and not worry about it affecting your chances of publishing in Science. So, on to
Dr Yi-Heng Percival Zhang proposes linking electricity, carbohydrate and hydrogen in a cycle that would simultaneously solve the CO2 and energy resource problems. And world hunger, too. Essentially it’s synthetic photosynthesis, fixing CO2 using electricity from whatever source we care to name:
8 CO2 (g) + 8 H2O (l) + electricity -> C6H10O5 (s) + C2H6O (l) + 9 O2 (g)
Or, more poetically,
like an insect caught by a spider, it is separated from its oxygen, combined with hydrogen and [...] inserted in a chain
(Primo Levi, The Periodic Table)
Nailed there, not by a flashing form of a packet of light, but by man-made engines of electrosynthesis.
Pretty cool, if it’ll work. It reminds me of an idea I had for making biodiesel from any suitable green plant. You see, the problem with biodiesel is you’re still cutting down rainforest to grow it. So, I reasoned, why not convert off-shore oil platforms into rapeseed or palm plantations, thus freeing up valuable land in developed countries, saving the rainforest and simultaneously converting everyone to biodiesel (just don’t get me started about ethanol fuels in cars. Brr). There are of course problems with this approach, but I reckon you might make a worse start than using those same platforms for the good Dr Yi-Heng’s idea.
This does remind me of another thought I had, related to the one about letting Jenny tattoo me with GFP. While photosynthesizing ex-oil platforms might be impractical, I reckon crowd-sourcing has much more potential. Theoretically we should be able to engineer skin cells to convert the sun’s energy and all that excess CO2 we have knocking around into sugar. I mean, we know the process, right?
Even as we speak, BlackKnight Industries scientists are toiling in their labs to produce prototype skin grafts, after which they will transfect adult stem cells with appropriate genes. Our plan is to give volunteers in sunny climes (which, coincidentally, tend to be the poorest nations of the world) one, maybe even two, photosynthetic arms. While these lucky individuals go about their daily business, these Synth-O-Arms (r) will silently convert CO2 into carbohydrate, which will be fed directly into the bloodstream. After the initial trials we’ll start modifying entire populations.
Imagine: solving global warming and world hunger at a stroke. I’m just wishing I thought of publishing the idea in Precedings.
By the way, while looking up the URL for Medical Hypotheses I came across the wikipedia talk page. Well worth looking at for a giggle.