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Projects: Projects for Investigator
Reference Number BB/I022309/1
Title How E. coli produces hydrogen
Status Completed
Energy Categories Renewable Energy Sources(Bio-Energy, Other bio-energy) 50%;
Hydrogen and Fuel Cells(Hydrogen, Hydrogen production) 50%;
Research Types Basic and strategic applied research 100%
Science and Technology Fields PHYSICAL SCIENCES AND MATHEMATICS (Chemistry) 100%
UKERC Cross Cutting Characterisation Not Cross-cutting 100%
Principal Investigator Professor FA (Fraser ) Armstrong
No email address given
Oxford Chemistry
University of Oxford
Award Type Research Grant
Funding Source BBSRC
Start Date 09 January 2012
End Date 08 January 2015
Duration 36 months
Total Grant Value £354,409
Industrial Sectors Pharmaceuticals and Biotechnology
Region South East
Investigators Principal Investigator Professor FA (Fraser ) Armstrong , Oxford Chemistry, University of Oxford (100.000%)
Web Site
Objectives This grant is linked to BB/I02008X/1.
In recent years, biological approaches to energy production (so-called 'bioenergy') are growing in importance as fossil fuel resources verge on the limits of economical extraction, and the environmental impact of carbon emissions gains long-overdue recognition. Hydrogen gas is among the most exciting of the current options for future energy needs. As the immediate product of energizing water by photolysis (sunlight) or renewable-powered electrolysis, or via biological routes (photosynthetic algae or 'dark' fermentation of waste materials), hydrogen is potentially the 'greenest' and most renewable of fuels. Currently, hydrogen is predominantly used as a feedstock in the chemical industry - but it is increasingly being used as a fuel. Hydrogen as a fuel is being championed by advanced countries, particularly through the governments of the USA, Australia, Germany and Sweden. Although the drawbacks of hydrogen are frequently aired (e.g. low energy density, storage difficulties, primitive supply and distribution infrastructure) these issues cannot be allowed to hold back its research and development, particularly in an academic context. 'Needs must' and hydrogen (including biohydrogen) will eventually become a dominant part of human lives and economies. Presently, 99% of hydrogen is produced by reforming fossil fuels. This approach is unsustainable and alternative, fully renewable, solutions must be found. This research project focuses on the mechanism of hydrogen production by Escherichia coli - the model organism of choice for biotechnologists the world over. Multinational energy companies, as well as innovative SMEs, will be greatly interested in the breakthroughs offered by this research. Industrialists who specialise in bioprocessing will also benefit from this work since we will be exploring methodology for the isolation of multi-enzyme, and membrane-bound, protein complexes. Biomedical companies will also be interested in this study of bacterial hydrogen metabolism, since hydrogenases are key virulence factors in pathogens related to E. coli - most notably Salmonella. Researchers interested in the emerging field of 'synthetic biology' should also be interested in this work. The principles of synthetic biology, some of which are applied here, can help overcome many hurdles in basic biological science research. This is the way forward for molecular biology. The staff trained on this project will be of immediate great interest to the industrial biotechnology and biomedical sectors. The project constantly applies electrochemistry to addressing biological questions, and this is a key modern technique at the interfaces of chemistry, physics and biology. Experts in this area will be in high demand, especially for companies interested in developing biosensors and other hybrid devices. Workers skilled in modern molecular biology, as well as membrane protein biochemistry, will also be in immediate demand. The Universities of Dundee and Oxford work hard to provide generic skills training in a broad spectrum of areas so that scientists are ready and able to contribute to the UK economy in whatever future career they so choose. Scientists at both institutions are exposed to a wide range of subjects, and the latest cutting-edge technology, so cannot fail to acquire both a strong work-ethic and broad understanding of the sciences. Overall, this project will benefit the nation's wealth as we move to a low carbon economy over the next 10-20 years. It will improve the nation's health over the same timescale as the use of hydrogen as a fuel increases (zero toxic or environmentally harmful emissions). It at will also place UK science at the cutting edge as the leading player in global biohydrogen research and development.
Abstract Escherichia coli is a bacterium with a flexible metabolism and renowned genetic tractability that has established it as an important 'model', or 'chassis', organism for biotechnologists interested in genetically modifying metabolism, or even designing completely synthetic activities. E. coli can perform a 'mixed-acid fermentation' in which glucose is metabolised to ethanol and various organic acids, including formate. This formate is further disproportionated to carbon dioxide and hydrogen by the formate hydrogenlyase (FHL) complex. The scope for tapping into this activity is enormous since it offers the possibility of fully renewable biohydrogen, freed from any dependence on fossil fuel. Although the genetics and physiology of FHL are understood, the instability and oxygen-lability of this important enzyme have meant that it has never been isolated in an intact or active form. In this proposal, we describe an innovative genetic solution to this problem and demonstrate the isolation of FHL for the first time. Our isolation of FHL is a major breakthrough in the fields of bioenergetics, membrane biology, and bioenergy research. An intensive, fully complementary, and cost-effective program of studies is thus planned to address the molecular basis of biohydrogen production by E. coli. FHL is a membrane-bound multi-enzyme complex comprising a formate dehydrogenase and a (NiFe) hydrogenase. The Dundee/Oxford collaboration offers superbly complementary approaches to the characterisation of FHL. The Dundee group has internationally-recognised expertise in cell and molecular biology of E. coli hydrogenases, and in the biochemistry of bacterial membrane proteins. The Oxford group have pioneered protein film electrochemistry for studying hydrogenases, which has now identified the molecular basis of the oxygen-tolerance mechanism utilised by some (NiFe)hydrogenases, and are world-leaders in unravelling the mechanisms of complex metalloenzymes using advanced spectroscopy.
Publications (none)
Final Report (none)
Added to Database 07/10/13