Green algae possess an enzyme for producing hydrogen, called hydrogenase. Together with his colleagues Thomas Happe engineers such enzymes in the test tube. Credit: © RUB, Marquard

Green algae possess an enzyme for producing hydrogen, called hydrogenase. Together with his colleagues Thomas Happe engineers such enzymes in the test tube. Credit: © RUB, Marquard

Science Daily reports that researchers from Ruhr-Universitaet-Bochum, one of the largest universities in Germany, have engineered a hydrogen-producing enzyme in the test tube that works as efficiently as the original. The protein — a so-called hydrogenase from green algae — is made up of a protein scaffold and a cofactor. The latter is the reaction center where the substances that react with each other dock. When the researchers added various chemically synthesized substances to the protein scaffold, the cofactor spontaneously assembled.

The team headed by Dr. Jens Noth and Professor Dr. Thomas Happe at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum report the results in the journal Angewandte Chemie. The researchers intend to lay the foundation for artificial, hydrogen-producing enzymes that will one day be manufactured on an industrial level. Hydrogenases are very efficient producers of the potential energy carrier and can do without the expensive precious metal platinum, which is currently required for hydrogen synthesis.

In nature, the hydrogenase cofactor is made up of iron and sulfur atoms. They are bonded in the protein in a unique manner. In the artificial variant, the researchers replaced the sulfur atoms by selenium atoms, which have more than twice as much mass. Using this method, they marked the enzyme’s cofactor and were able to analyze it in more detail.

The tests revealed that the artificial enzyme variant has the same biochemical properties as the original that occurs in nature. With the aid of other biophysical methods, the group intends to figure out in more detail the reaction mechanism that is used by the hydrogenase for the production of hydrogen.

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