Scientists Create Synthetic Genes to Fight Global Warming

Renewable energy — By Roberta on February 16, 2010 at 10:12 pm
Omar Yaghi

UCLA Professor Omar Yaghi

Scientists at UCLA have created synthetic “genes” that may soon be able to gobble up the damaging carbon emissions that contribute to global warming and threaten life on earth as we know it.  The three-dimensional, synthetic DNA-like crystals, composed of organic and inorganic components, code information in a DNA-like manner.

UCLA chemistry and biochemistry professors Yaghi and Hexiang Deng led a team that has created three-dimensional synthetic DNA-like crystals that have a sequence of information which is believed to code for carbon capture.  This is an exciting breakthrough which may have enormously positive implications for the future.

Imagine what this would mean for cleaning up emissions from cars, planes, and coal fired factories.  Yaghi believes the crystals can have far reaching industrial applications as well.  The potential is staggering.

Says Professor Yaghi:

“What we think this will be important for is potentially getting to a viable carbon dioxide–capture material with ultra-high selectivity,” said Yaghi, who holds UCLA’s Irving and Jean Stone Chair in Physical Sciences and is director of the CNSI’s Center for Reticular Chemistry. “I am optimistic that is within our reach. Potentially, we could create a material that can convert carbon dioxide into a fuel, or a material that can separate carbon dioxide with greater efficiency.”

mof bild1 Scientists Create Synthetic Genes to Fight Global Warming

Metal Organic Frameworks

The research, which appears in the February 12th issue of the Journal Science, was federally funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences. The lead author is Hexiang “DJ” Deng, a UCLA graduate student of chemistry and biochemistry who works in Yaghi’s laboratory.

In the early 1990s, Yaghi invented a class of materials called metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), sometimes described as crystal sponges, in which he can change the components nearly at will. MOFs have pores — openings on the nanoscale in which Yaghi and his colleagues can store gases that are usually difficult to store and transport.  Molecules can go in and out of the pores unobstructed. Yaghi and his research team have made thousands of MOFs.

A few years ago, Yaghi spoke at Shanghai’s Fudan University, which is known for having one of the best chemistry departments in China. There, he met Deng, who at the time was an undergraduate student at the university. Deng and his colleagues had tried unsuccessfully to make new MOFs. Yaghi invited him to come to UCLA and work with him. Deng accepted and the rest is history.

“With MOF chemistry,” Yaghi said, “it is not all design; there is a lot of trial and error because we are trying to learn what nature is telling us, and learning that code takes time.

But thanks to Professor Yaghi, Deng and the other graduate students working in Yaghi’s lab, nature is beginning to give up her secrets.  Synthetic crystals with gene-like qualities may not only create the fuels of the future, they may be the ultimate answer to the problems of  carbon emissions and global warming.

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