Introducing: CAPS Scientific Teams
Carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) are the two most abundant greenhouse gases, trapping thermal radiation close to the earth’s atmosphere and contributing to global warming and climate change. These two gases contributed to 94% of all the greenhouse gas emissions in 2010. CO2emissions are expected to increase by more than 40% by 2035, unless major worldwide policies are soon implemented. While CH4 emissions have remained fairly stable over the past 20 years, they are expected to rise significantly in the next decades, largely as a consequence of the increased use of natural gas and hydraulic fracturing, which results in major releases of CH4 to the atmosphere. From an industrial perspective, CO2 and CH4 provide very abundant sources of carbon for the synthesis of a large range of chemicals. While plants and microbes are efficient at converting CO2 into sugars and other compounds, the sophisticated chains of enzymatic reactions that usually accomplish these processes are difficult to replicate in an industrial context. Existing industrial methods to convert CH4into methanol are also very energy consuming.
Biology-inspired catalysts derived from bacteria and plants, such as ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase oxygenase (RubisCO) and methane monooxygenase (MMO), extract CO2 or methane, respectively, and convert them to energy-rich compounds like glucose, by the sequential action of multiple enzymes. However, the use of free or cell-based enzymes as biocatalysts for large-scale industrial processes pose significant drawbacks due to their incompatibility with reaction conditions that often depart from their physiological states. The challenge is to construct catalytic systems that mimic the cellular environment but are scalable and sufficiently robust to withstand harsher conditions and be separated from the product.
This CAPS project aims to develop methods (1) to encapsulate CO2 reducing enzymes within synthetic nanostructures to mimic natural carboxysomes found in nature, (2) to create a catalytic RNA molecule for methane oxidation, (3) to develop supramolecular catalysts for the conversion of CH4into commodity chemicals and (4) to develop strategies to deploy these catalysts in real-world environments.
- Jon Parquette will develop methods to encapsulate and co-encapsulate catalytic CO2-reducing enzymes.
- F. Robert Tabita will evaluate the catalytic activity of encapsulated enzymes and will be responsible for developing strategies to encapsulate multi-protein biocatalysts for product formation.
- Venkat Gopalan will be involved in the development and selection of catalytic RNA aptamers for methane oxidation.
- Christopher Jaroniec will perform solid-state NMR structural studies of encapsulated enzymes.
- Jovica Badjic will prepare artificial receptors for the binding and catalytic oxidation of methane.
- T. V. RajanBabu will design novel ligands for transition metal catalysis for methane oxidation.
- Vish Subramaniam will develop specific pigment molecules for harnessing energy from the solar spectrum for the conversion processes.
- Vishnu Sundaresan will use SECM to characterize the organic nanotubes, RNA catalysts immobilized on surfaces and the nanoconstructs formed from encapsulating various biomolecules.
- Photosynthesis and Carbon Fixation
Plastic production has outgrown most other man-made materials, with packaging, agriculture, and construction accounting for ~ 60% of its use. More than 90% of the plastics are petroleum-based and non-biodegradable, and >80% end up in landfills, raising environmental concerns. Dependence on crude oil makes the plastic industry unsustainable and plastic markets vulnerable to oil price volatility. Therefore, BAIT (The Bioplastic Alternatives Interdisciplinary Team) seeks to create a new family of bio-based and biodegradable products by value-added use of agricultural and food processing waste streams, as alternatives to petroleum-based plastics prevalent in packaging, agricultural, and construction industries. The team includes a broad breadth of interdisciplinary faculty across Food Science, Horticulture and Crop Science, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Chemical and Biological Engineering, Chemistry, Architecture, Material Science, and Civil, Environmental and Geodetic Engineering.
In this project, the BPBFP team will pool their expertise to convert plant-based feedstocks (lignocellulose biomass) to value-added products using both in vivo and in vitro methods. Lignocellulose biomass will be collected at the CFAES Wooster facility. Various microbes will be engineered, using novel synthetic biology approaches, to convert lignocellulose-derived carbon to bioproducts that are in demand. Likewise, a novel in vitro-based approach, using purified enzymes sequestered in nanoparticles that catalyze sequential reactions, will also be employed for biosynthetic processes. Several significant products will be synthesized, included ethylene, butanol, glycerol, and various natural products and antibiotics and we will produce products in stable, scalable nanoparticles.
This team is focused on developing Strategic Modern Approaches for Resilient Trees (team SMART), centered on the development of small unmanned aerial vehicles and artificial intelligence models to manage invasive forest tree pathogens and insect pests (PIPs). The main goal of the project is the development of tools and algorithms that will provide forest health managers with the ability to scout for PIPs over landscape scales and, importantly, at the presymptomatic stage. This will be achieved by remotely sensing and interpreting spectroscopic signatures of trees under attack through the integration of satellite imagery with spectra obtained with advanced drone-mounted sensors. In this way, managers will be able to be one step ahead of the invaders. This advanced ability will allow forest health managers to circumscribe invasions much more accurately and realistically, leading to significant improvements in treatment of new invasion foci and therefore of the invasions themselves.