While the practical applications may be hard for the average person to appreciate, scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, and the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have made a significant discovery about the energy-producing properties of a protein found in marine bacteria.

Researchers studying the properties of proteorhodopsin, a light-sensitive protein found in many marine bacteria, have demonstrated that it allows the bacteria to absorb sunlight as an alternate fuel source when oxygen is not available. The ability to harvest different types of energy is a critical adaptation for ocean-going bacteria because of the many so-called “dead zones” in the world’s oceans that lack enough oxygen to sustain life.

On a more practical level, the scientists working on the project explain the discovery has great potential for the quest to develop alternatives to fossil fuel. Microbes that have the ability to harvest energy from several different sources, like oxygen and light, may be better at producing biofuels than those that can use only a single energy source.     EC