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Carbon-capturing enzyme: MIT chemists learn from nature

Diagram courtesy of Yan Kung, MIT

Each year, microorganisms containing a certain enzyme remove an estimated 100 million tons of the pollutant carbon monoxide (CO) from the environment. Now, MIT researchers have new insights into how they go about it — happy news for inorganic chemists who have long been trying to synthesize compounds that can do the same thing without the living creature.

“Microorganisms such as bacteria can do lots of chemistry that people would like to do,” says Catherine L. Drennan, professor of chemistry and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. “They can form and break carbon bonds, split nitrogen, and break apart hydrogen and oxygen — all things that we can’t do or can do only with great difficulty.”

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