Nature’s solution to climate change

Inhale. It’s an impulse we very rarely think about. Each person inhales and exhales upwards of 17,000 times a day, without giving the process a second thought. However the sheer amount of cells that are dedicated to this perplexing system implies an impressive complexity behind it all.

 

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There are three significant pieces to the respiratory system including the airway, the lungs and the muscles committed to respiration – not to mention the bloodstream that allows for the crucial transportation of the gases involved. The fundamental purpose of this process is to enrich the blood with oxygen atoms while diminishing the carbon dioxide by-product waste that our cells produce. A key player in this role is the enzyme family Carbonic Anhydrase which catalyse the conversion of carbon dioxide into bicarbonate and carbonic acid in red blood cells to allow for efficient transport of the ions through the bloodstream. The Carbonic Anhydrase then catalyses the reverse reaction by converting the bicarbonate ions into Carbon Dioxide atoms that can then be exhaled and removed from the body. This makes the enzyme essential to the fundamental process of life due to the fact that although the reaction of Carbon Dioxide into bicarbonate and carbonic acid is able to occur without the presence of the enzyme, it is a slow process that would not be effective in the body. As the carbon dioxide concentration in the cells increase, the pH of the cells increases above neutrality accordingly which results in decreased bodily function or eventually stop cell function, thus making the enzyme essential to life.

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Our bodies are wonderful and complex systems that evolved to mitigate the harmful effects that carbon dioxide can have if unregulated. We, on the other hand have spiralled into a notably dreadful complication in which carbon dioxide emissions have relentlessly risen to reach the highest that they have been for the first time in 400,000 years. Resultantly, the enhanced greenhouse effect has caused hysteria across the globe and the effects of this spike in emissions is clearer than it has ever been before as continents are increasingly going through severe and extreme whether conditions and fluctuations, while seal levels rise at an alarming rate. However, as the global population is increasing, the demand for quick-supply and reliable energy is souring and so researchers and scientists are working ferociously to find cleaner alternatives to fossil fuel combustion energy.

The obvious solution to this issue is the use of renewable energy to act as an efficient alternative to the traditional fossil-fuel combustion plants. Nonetheless, renewable energy may be an idyllic solution although there are high developmental costs that come with renewable energy stations in both research and manufacturing the components needed for them to be successful. This is a limitation of renewable energy, as well as the fact the sources of renewable energy production such as solar intensity or wind, are not entirely accessible to all environments. However excess carbon emissions is a problem that must be addressed promptly before our atmosphere reaches the point were it can no longer return to pre-industrial levels for a numerous amount of years into the future.

Carbon capture and storage is a suitable solution to curb the excessive emission of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and it is a technology that is presumably more accessible and economical than the production and distribution of renewable energy technologies. Although there are several different types of technologies already available and in widespread use involved in carbon capture, the use of a modified edition of a Carbonic Anhydrase mimic for industrial use in regulating fuel emissions is a stirring prospect. The original enzyme’s composition makes it extremely sensitive to the harsh conditions within power plants, for instance the heat would denature the enzyme’s active site completely. Therefore, the original enzyme cannot be immobilised in its current form, however work has been made to enhance the enzymes properties and a modified form of Carbonic Anhydrase has been proposed as an economical alternative for carbon capture. How funny it is that the most innovative technologies of today draw their roots from nature.

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Source:
http://www.pnas.org/content/111/46/16436.full.pdf
http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/carboncaptureandstorage/whatisccs
http://wonderopolis.org/wonder/how-many-breaths-do-you-take-each-day/
http://www.diatronic.co.uk/nds/webpub/carbon_dioxide.htm
http://climate.nasa.gov/climate_resources/24/

http://www.pnas.org/content/111/46/16436.full.pdf

http://www.pnas.org/content/111/46/16436.full.pdf

http://www.pnas.org/content/111/46/16436.full.pdf

http://www.pnas.org/content/111/46/16436.full.pdf

http://www.pnas.org/content/111/46/16436.full.pdf

http://www.pnas.org/content/111/46/16436.full.pdf

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