VAI researchers are replicating an enzyme that breaks down key greenhouse gases

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Research led by a team from the Van Andel Institute has replicated an enzyme that could one day be turned into a new tool for reducing the amount of a common greenhouse gas in Earth’s atmosphere.

The research was led by VAI Associate Professors Juan Du and Wei Lu together with Professor Oliver Einsle from the University of Freiburg.

The enzyme is called N2O reductase. The study released on Wednesday in the journal “Nature”, explains how the enzyme is structured and how it can convert nitrous oxide into nitrogen and water. The researchers were able to duplicate the membrane protein complex behind N2O reductase and create it using copper ions.

According to a press release from VAI, N2O reductase occurs naturally in certain microbes, but the sharp increase in nitrogen consumption over the past century has overwhelmed the natural cycle of breaking down the gas and pumped it into the atmosphere. And although nitrous oxide makes up only about 7% of the greenhouse gas in our atmosphere, its effect is 300 times worse than carbon dioxide.

“Tackling greenhouse gases is a massive, multifaceted endeavor,” Du said in a press release. “Today’s results are an early but important step towards the development of another tool to potentially address a contribution to climate change.”

According to that US Environmental Protection Agency, nitrous oxide remains in the atmosphere for more than 100 years. About 40% of global nitrogen oxide emissions come from humans. Fertilizers and other agricultural products are the worst culprits, followed by wastewater treatment and other industrial uses. VAI researchers are replicating an enzyme that breaks down key greenhouse gases

Dais Johnston

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