Archaea harness hydrogen to produce energy

Archaea harness hydrogen to produce energy

Hydrogen Energy

Scientists have discovered that archaea, single-celled organisms that form the third domain of life, have been using hydrogen gas to produce energy for billions of years. The study found that at least nine groups of archaea possess unique enzymes called [FeFe] hydrogenases, which allow them to consume and produce hydrogen in Earth’s most extreme environments. Humans have only recently begun to think about using hydrogen as a source of energy, but archaea have been doing it for a billion years,” said Dr.

Bob Leung, a microbiologist at Monash University in Australia and co-author of the study. The research team analyzed the genomes of over 2,000 archaeal species and identified 130 genomes containing the genetic codes for these unusual hydrogen-producing enzymes. They also found evidence of hybridization between [FeFe] hydrogenases and another class of enzyme, [NiFe] hydrogenases, across 10 archaeal orders.

By reproducing these [FeFe] hydrogenases in the lab, the scientists discovered that archaea not only possess some of the smallest hydrogenases of any lifeform but also the most complex.

Economic energy production using hydrogen

This ability to process hydrogen and generate energy has allowed these resilient microbes to thrive in places most living things wouldn’t dare to tread, such as hot springs and deep beneath the ocean floor.

The findings have implications for understanding the evolution of life on Earth, as current thinking suggests that eukaryotes, which include animals, plants, and fungi, evolved from an ancient merger between archaeal and bacterial cells via the exchange of hydrogen gas. “Our finding brings us a step closer to understanding how this crucial process gave rise to all eukaryotes, including humans,” Leung added. The discovery also opens up new possibilities for biotechnologists to harness these enzymes for industrial hydrogen production, which could help improve cost-effectiveness and sustainability in the transition to a more sustainable energy future.

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Professor Chris Greening, lead author of the study, said, “Industry currently uses precious chemical catalysts to use hydrogen. However, we know from nature that biological catalysts can be highly efficient and resilient. Can we use these to improve the way that we use hydrogen?

The study, published in the journal Nature Metabolism, significantly alters our understanding of fundamental biology and presents exciting opportunities for advancements in sustainable energy production, drawing from the ancient life strategies of archaea.


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