There is an increasing demand for agricultural products to feed the growing world population. Food production requires lots of water, nutrients and space. As a result, natural areas, like grasslands and tropical rainforests are under increasing pressure of growing agricultural activities. ’When we manage to grow plants without sunlight, I call it dark photosynthesis, we can produce food in areas unsuitable for traditional agriculture’, says Strik.
Plants under power
The scientists think that the paradox of ‘dark photosynthesis’ is possible by using electricity to put plants under electrical power. During the first step of normal photosynthesis, plants use sunlight to oxidize water, generating electrons. These electrons are subsequently used, together with CO2, in metabolic reactions for biomass production (growth) (Fig. 2). Strik: ‘Our plan is to skip this first step and deliver electrons directly to the plant, so sunlight is not needed: effectively, we want run electricity through plants.’ This principle is already functioning in bacteria: these organisms produce acetic acid using electricity and CO2. Strik is confident that it could work for plants too, but instead of producing acetic acid, plants produce biomass.