Recent advancements in genetic engineering, such as CRISPR/Cas9, have dramatically enhanced our ability to alter genomes as a means of optimizing (or re-appropriating) an organism's natural processes. And Optogenetics is a recently established facet of this frontier that combines genetic engineering with optical sciences to endow organisms with a diversity of light responsive functions. In particular, BiPlastiq employs several optogenetic enhancements, endowing mitochondria with the ability to metabolize the energy of light.
The term —Photosystem— has traditionally applied to the photosynthetic complexes within chloroplasts, which give plants their ability to metabolize light. Yet, there is a far simpler variant, called Rhodopsin, which can confer its hosts with the similar abilities. Originally discovered in microbes, Rhodopsins are ion-pumps that are powered exclusively by light. And researchers have quietly spent the better part of two decades engineering these proteins into a variety of organisms —from microbes to mammals— endowing each host with the ability to harvesting light as a means of driving cellular metabolism.
Prior to the emergence of Rhodopsin, the metabolic engineering of microorganisms required the difficult re-regulation bioenergetic reactions. However, several recently published accomplishments have demonstrated Rhodopsin's versatility in enhancing various metabolic processes —including the synthesis of ATP— resulting in notable increases in energy production, growth and the scalable synthesis of biomaterials.
A cosmopolitan protein, Rhodopsin is readily expressively in various organisms across all domains of life. As a result, Rhodopsin holds tremendous promise in its ability to massively disrupt the field of Synthetic Biology. Today, metabolic enhancements —once believed to require the difficult re-regulation of complex mitochondrial reactions— can be achieved by merely integrating Rhodopsin into the mitochondrial matrix.
Well, mitochondria are the power plants of (eukaryotic) cells; and the Electron Transport Chain is the central process through which mitochondria produce energy. The Electron Transport Chain performs this task through a series of ion-pistons that convert its fuel into ATP —the energy currency for most work performed within the cell. By introducing Rhodopsin into the Electron Transport Chain, BiPlastiq endows mitochondria with ion-pistons capable of converting light into a supplemental source of energy.
And BiPlastiq's advancements do not end there; we are continually optimizing our suite of genetic enhancements to include novel efficiencies, many of which are often represented in nature. A prime example is our use of antennae found in Xantho-Rhodopsin; the antennae dramatically enhance the Rhodopsin's ability to absorb protonic energy. (The animated example demonstrates how the Xantho-Rhodopsin's Antennae dramatically increases the surface area available to adsorb light, thereby channeling protonic energy to the host's photosystems.)