Flow Reactor Created that Will Be Able to Mass Produce Amino Acids

Researchers at Kyushu University have developed highly efficient amino acid synthesis from biomass-derivable acids and water using electric energy.

Amino acids are the basic building blocks of proteins and are also involved in various functional materials such as feed additives, flavor enhancers, and pharmaceuticals.

Above – A demonstration flow reactor constructed by researchers at Kyushu University continuously converts source materials into amino acids through a reaction driven by electricity. By choosing the right combination of electrocatalyst and source materials, the researchers achieved highly efficient synthesis of amino acids. This method for producing amino acids is less resource intensive than current methods, and similar methods may one day be used for providing people living in space with some of the essential nutrients they need to survive. CREDIT Szabolcs Arany, Kyushu University

They built a flow reactor that can electrochemically synthesize the amino acids continuously and it can be scaled up production in the future.

Current methods for artificially producing amino acids are based on fermentation using microbes, a process that is time and resource-intensive. It is not practical to produce these vital nutrients in space-limited and resource-restricted conditions.

Researchers succeeded in efficiently synthesizing several types of amino acids using abundant materials. The overall reaction is simple, but needed the right combination of starting materials and catalyst to get it to actually work without relying on rare materials.

The researchers settled on a combination of titanium dioxide as the electrocatalyst and an organic acid called alpha-keto acid as the key source material. Titanium dioxide is abundantly available on Earth, and alpha-keto acid can be easily extracted from woody biomass.

Placing the alpha-keto acid and a source of nitrogen, such as ammonia or hydroxylamine, in a water-based solution and running electricity through it using two electrodes, one of which was titanium dioxide, led to synthesis of seven amino acids–alanine, glycine, aspartic acid, glutamic acid, leucine, phenylalanine, and tyrosine–with high efficiency and high selectivity even under mild conditions.

Hydrogen, which is also needed as part of the reaction, was generated during the process as a natural result of running electricity between electrodes in water.

17 thoughts on “Flow Reactor Created that Will Be Able to Mass Produce Amino Acids”

  1. On the contrary, I think that in the modern industrialized world, a higher metabolism is a net advantage.

    Who sits around these days complaining that they’ve got a fast metabolism and can’t put on a single kg of fat?

    If you were really clever you could have all the fancy recycling pathways shut down whenever the body is stressed from heat or underfeeding.

  2. Absolutely would. My (filipina) wife is darker where the Sun don’t shine than I am anywhere on my lily white body, because I’m descended from Northern Europeans who desperately needed every bit of vitamin D they could synthesize in the winter from the little patches of skin they could expose without dying of exposure. While her ancestors lived on diets of fish (High in vitamin D) in a climate where you could go naked and not freeze.

    If we didn’t need sun exposure to synthesize vitamin D, dark skin would be the way to go.

    Vitamins are an easy case for internal synthesis. Urea back to aminos? Tougher. I think the chief argument for external recycling, is displacing the waste heat. Total internal recycling would increase calorie requirements and need to reject waste heat, lowering the ceiling for otherwise useful metabolic activity. Might even lower that ceiling below the floor for pregnant women.

  3. I wasn’t challenging the free radicals. They’re not mutually exclusive.

    Not so sure about sweating being good for skin moisture. Maybe in the short term yes, but the sweat evaporates, so you loose water. And the salts can irritate the skin, which can have unwanted side effects too.

    In the long term, with proper hygiene and hydration etc, it probably doesn’t matter much either way.

  4. Well, I have been hearing the free radical story for 30 years in relation to this, and to my knowledge, it hasn’t really been challenged. It has been in some aging contexts (relative to rodents), but not endurance athletics. Here is a random reasonably well written article: https://www.roy-stevenson.com/antioxidants.html
    Free radicals really come from oxygen. And you are putting a lot more oxygen in your body.
    And I suspect all that sweating is very good for skin moisture.
    Sure sun can do some damage. There are also sunscreens. And cities make pollution which can’t be good. Professionals though usually don’t exercise in dirty cities, even if an event they are training for is in a dirty city. They usually make a point of living/training somewhere relatively clean. Skin elasticity is not from fat. Elastin, collagen and moisture are mainly responsible. But it is collagen crosslinks compromising the collagen and crosslinks from things like glucosepane that are mostly responsible for wrinkles and leathery skin. Those crosslinks can be caused by ultraviolet light, but they can also be caused by free radicals spontaneously bonding to things and by quantum tunneling effects that are more common at higher temperatures. Fat is mostly under the skin. It can hide wrinkles somewhat, but you also get sag and droop when combined. There are some nuts who want to look “cut” and dehydrate badly to see muscle definition. Mostly body builders. Exercise pros generally try to stay hydrated.

  5. Nitrogen fixation normally is achieved by bacteria in nitrogen nodules on the roots of certain plants especially legumes.
    Here we go: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nitrogen_fixation
    As they are underground, there would be little point in them being green.
    Nitrogen fixation may be over the top. Urea recycling should do a very good job of reusing nitrogen. But as people grow they will need more nitrogen. It would be dreadful to have to consume urea to make up this difference. No amount of sugar is going to make that go down. So maybe nitrogen fixation is not so over the top after all. You would have to have some nitrogen in the air rather than pure oxygen. You can’t fix what is not there.
    Could our bodies get energy from the sun or stars with photosynthesis? Maybe at near starvation levels and near zero activity. Photosynthesis is very inefficient. I think the best plants top out at 6% efficiency…which is why there are no plants walking around. You would have to invent a whole new process that was much more efficient. Symbiotic solar nanites?
    We would be black again probably. Europeans/Asians only white so we can get enough vitamin D in winter at higher latitudes. Balanced against skin cancer. But if we make vitamin D…protection will win.

  6. Professional bicyclists and runners also spend a lot of time in the sun and tend to have low body fat (not sure, but I’m guessing low body fat also contributes to drier and maybe less elastic skin).

  7. So we need to turn crap into alpha-keto acid and minerals.
    Though, I think it would be preferable to introduce genes into the body that can fix nitrogen or recycle it or both and synthesize the essential amino acids.
    In space, it is better to have the body as the maker/recycler of needed nutrients…except the calories: essential fatty acids, essential amino acids, and vitamins. Then all you need is sugar and water, and some minerals. Perhaps sweat glands also can be reengineered not to waste minerals.
    These things are not far fetched. Bears, for example, recycle all their urea. Most animals make vitamin C. We actually have the gene for vitamin C. It is just broken. Very easy to fix. And all these things I am suggesting, some animal or plant or bacteria produces. It should be a simple matter to find the genes that do that and insert them using gene editing techniques. It might require some regulatory genes too. But I don’t think that would be difficult either.
    I think it is very likely we would live longer if we made nutrients as needed rather than coming up short on stuff routinely…even if replaced fairly soon. Cardio exercise for example does a lot of free radical damage, even if it has other benefits. That is why the skin of professional bicyclists and runners gets wrinkled like smokers. Vitamin C can reduce the rate of that damage accumulation. Alpha lipoic acid probably also helps as it reactivates vitamin C and vitamin E.


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