GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Research led by a team at the Van Andel Institute has replicated an enzyme that one day could be turned into a new tool for reducing the amount of a common greenhouse gas in the Earth’s atmosphere.
The research was led by VAI Associate Professors Juan Du and Wei Lu, along with Professor Oliver Einsle of the University of Freiburg.
The enzyme is called N2O reductase. The study, published Wednesday in the scientific journal “Nature,” explains how the enzyme is assembled and can render nitrous oxide into nitrogen and water. The researchers were able to duplicate the membrane protein complex behind N2O reductase and used copper ions to create it.
According to a release from VAI, N2O reductase occurs naturally in certain microbes, but the sharp rise of nitrogen use over the last century has overwhelmed the natural cycle of breaking down the gas, pushing it into the atmosphere. And although nitrous oxide only comprises about 7% of the greenhouse gas in our atmosphere, its impact is 300-times worse than carbon dioxide.
“Addressing greenhouse gases is a massive, multi-faceted endeavor,” Du said in a release. “Today’s findings are an early but important step toward development of another tool to potentially combat one contributor to climate change.”
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, nitrous oxide stays in the atmosphere for more than 100 years. Approximately 40% of the world’s nitrous oxide emissions come from humans. Fertilizer and other agricultural products are the worst offender, followed by wastewater treatment and other industrial uses.