A team of researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have successfully taught a type of bacteria to cover its own surface with semiconductor nanocrystals in order to absorb a higher percentage of the sun's energy. Chemistry professor Peidong Yang and chemist Kelsey Sakimoto used Moorella thermoacetica—a type of bacteria that can convert carbon dioxide into acetic acid—and fed them cadmium and the amino acid cysteine, which enabled the bacteria to harvest nearly 80 percent of the sun's energy and convert it into acetic acid, a chemical that can be converted into fuel through complementary, genetically engineered bacteria. “These nanocrystals are much more efficient than chlorophyll and can be grown at a fraction of the cost of manufactured solar panels,” says Sakimoto. "The process is self-replicating and self-regenerating." Sakimoto thinks the technology will act as an alternative for the petrochemical industry.

Early this week, the team presented their research at the 254th American Chemical Society National Meeting & Exposition held in Washington, D.C.