Scientists have discovered that a bacterium called Thiomicrospira crunogena can produce carbonic anhydrase, an enzyme that can convert carbon dioxide into bicarbonate. In a new study, scientists from the University of Florida highlight how the bacterium, found in deep-sea regions, could play a role in the race to find solutions to sequester industrial CO2 from the atmosphere.

The researchers say that the bacterium living near hydrothermal vents, usually found in areas with volcanic activity, has been perfected by evolution to withstand extreme temperature and pressure. This special feature makes it is naturally adapted to handle conditions found in an industrial setting.

The carbonic anhydrase enzyme that the bacterium produces can catalyze a chemical reaction between carbon dioxide and water. This interaction converts carbon dioxide into bicarbonate, which could then be processed into products such as baking soda and chalk.

In order to work in an industrial setting, the enzyme would be immobilized with solvent inside a reactor vessel. As flue gas moved through the solvent, the enzyme would covert the carbon dioxide into bicarbonate.

Further research will focus on scaling up production of the enzyme to meet the huge demands of industrial use. The researchers have already devised a way to produce the enzyme in a lab without having to harvest Thiomicrospira crunogena from the sea, using a genetically engineered version of the common E.Coli bacteria.

So far, the team has managed to produce several milligrams of carbonic anhydrase, but much larger quantities would be necessary for industrial application. They will also look into ways of increasing its stability, longevity and activation speed.

Details of the study were published recently in the journals Acta Crystallographica D: Biological Crystallography and Chemical Engineering Science.

The video below features UF scientists talking about their research.