Trapping solar energy


The article "A strange creature: Part animal and part plant" by Maneka Gandhi (THE ISLAND 10 August 2019) makes interesting reading. However, Maneka Gandhi’s advisers have not made mention of the microbial molecule ‘bacteriorhodopsin’ which, like chlorophyll, is capable of using solar energy.

It is present in certain saltwater bacteria (‘halobacteria’; Halobacterium halobium also known as H. salinarum) and captures light energy to create a proton gradient, which is converted to chemical energy by a phosphorylation process. The molecule is purple and most efficient at absorbing green light (max 568 nm). My interest was drawn to bacteriorhodopsin by early suggestions that it may some day be useful for trapping solar energy using a novel technology. Please see the following article for some early information:

R. H. Wickramasinghe, ‘Model role for bacteriorhodopsin for solar energy utilization by primordial organisms’, Cytobios (Cambridge, England) 17(1976)31-33.

While my research subsequently went into other directions, such as spices and herbal medicines, others have made much progress in research on bacteriorhodopsin and related areas.

To add a little human interest to this story, the manuscript of the above article was prepared and typed by myself in the pre-computer era and taken personally to the Post Office at College Park, Maryland for posting to the Editor of the journal, Cytobios. While leaving the Post Office car park, my car was run into by a lady, thus diminishing my satisfaction at completing that task. However, things were finally resolved amicably.

Dr. Rohan Wickramasinghe

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