Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences have devised a technique for turning carbon dioxide (CO2) into starch more efficiently than plants do.

Starch — which is used in the making of everything from bread to paper — is manufactured using plants and thus takes a significant toll on the environment via land use, water, fertilizer, pesticides and fuel. As such, the team devised a sustainable approach for manufacturing starch.

Starch synthesis via artificial starch anabolic pathway (ASAP) from carbon dioxide. Source: TIBCASStarch synthesis via artificial starch anabolic pathway (ASAP) from carbon dioxide. Source: TIBCAS

Using a combination of chemical catalysts and natural and engineered enzymes, the researchers reportedly converted CO2 to starch in a process thought to be 8.5 times more efficient than that achieved with corn plants.

Researchers initially reduced the CO2 to a methanol using an organic catalyst, which was then treated with engineered enzymes that converted the methanol to sugar units, which were then converted to polymeric starch — this is accomplished via a technique that reportedly only included 11 core reactions.

The synthetic starch manufactured via this technique reportedly demonstrated the same structure as authentic starch.

"If the overall cost of the process can be reduced to a level economically comparable with agricultural planting in the future, it is expected to save more than 90% of cultivated land and freshwater resources," explained Yanhe Ma, a study author and a microbiologist at the Tianjin Institute of Industrial Biotechnology.

The research, Cell-free chemoenzymatic starch synthesis from carbon dioxide, appears in the journal Science.

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