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Yeast solar panels

    Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

    Semiconductor nanoparticles (violet) attached to the surface of a yeast cell (magenta) capture electrons from light to boost production of shikimic acid, a precursor to Tamiflu. Microbes, especially bacteria and yeast, have long been used as biofoundries to produce drugs and fine chemicals at industrial scale. Now researchers have combined yeast with semiconductor technology to harvest energy from light to fuel their biosynthetic pathways. Such a biological–inorganic hybrid was developed by a team from Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering (Science 362, 813–816, 2018). Like solar panels on the roof of a house, when illuminated, the semiconductor nanoparticles capture electrons and hand them over to the surface of the baker's yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, where they energize NADPH molecules, which can fuel reductive biosynthetic reactions. This cost-effective living system creates a scalable blueprint for future biohybrid technologies in which the identity of the semiconductor and the engineered cell can be varied in a plug-and-play fashion to manufacture a wide range of medicines and chemical products.

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    Yeast solar panels. Nat Biotechnol 37, 11 (2019).

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