Researchers at Chinese Academy of Sciences first in the world to synthesize starch 10-08-2021

On September 23, the Chinese Academy of Sciences held the first press conference of the year to publicize important progress made by the Tianjin Institute of Industrial Biotechnology in artificial starch synthesis. The researchers of the institute proposed a starch preparation method that does not rely on plant photosynthesis and that rather uses carbon dioxide and hydrogen produced by electrolysis as raw materials. This is the first time in the world to achieve de novo synthesis of carbon dioxide into starch. With this breakthrough achievement, it may be possible to transform starch production from a traditional agricultural planting model to an industrial workshop production model. These research results were published in Science Magazine on September 24.


New starch synthesis pathway simplifies and improves traditional photosynthetic starch production process

Starch is the main component of flour, rice, corn and other grains, and it is also an important industrial raw material. Currently, starch is mainly synthesized from carbon dioxide through plant photosynthesis. In crops such as corn, the conversion of carbon dioxide into starch involves more than 60 steps of metabolic reactions and complex physiological regulation, and the utilization efficiency of solar energy does not exceed 2%. Furthermore, the planting of crops usually takes a period of several months and uses a lot of resources such as land, fresh water, and fertilizer.


According to Yanhe Ma, one of the authors of the paper describing this breakthrough, researchers have been working hard for a long time to improve the process of photosynthesis, hoping to increase the conversion rate of carbon dioxide and the efficiency of light energy utilization, and ultimately improve the production efficiency of starch.


Researchers from the Tianjin Institute of Industrial Biotechnology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences designed a new method for artificial carbon dioxide fixation and artificial starch synthesis with an 11-step reaction, achieving the full synthesis from carbon dioxide to starch molecules in the laboratory for the first time. The starch synthesis rate of the research team's artificial pathway is 8.5 times that of corn starch.


Synthetic starch production may replace agricultural production in the future

With sufficient energy supply, according to the current theoretical technical parameters, the annual starch output of a 1 cubic meter reactor is equivalent to the average annual output of planted corn on 5 acres of land. This achievement makes it possible to transform the traditional agricultural planting model of starch production to an industrial workshop production and opens up a new technical route for the synthesis of complex molecules from carbon dioxide raw materials.


If the cost of the artificial process can be reduced in the future to be economically feasible compared with traditional agricultural planting, it will save more than 90% of arable land. Furthermore, the artificial process will save freshwater resources, avoid the negative impact of pesticides and fertilizers on the environment, improve human food security, promote the development of a carbon-neutral bio-economy, and promote the formation of a sustainable bio-based society. However, this achievement is still in the laboratory stage and is far from practical application.


For more information, please check our Corn Products China News.

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