Ideal Photosynthetic Microbe for Bioenergy Applications?


Photosynthetic microorganisms such as cyanobacteria are of considerable interest for a variety of biotechnology applications, including biofuels production, because they grow by harvesting energy from the sun to produce lipids and they consume carbon dioxide. The primary challenges have been that they grow slowly and their genetic and metabolic networks are not well understood and amenable to manipulation. To address these challenges, a team of scientists from Washington University in St. Louis, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, and the University of Texas at Austin searched for and found a fast-growing cyanobacterial strain called Synechococcus elongatus UTEX 2973. This strain grows as fast as yeast without the need for any special nutrients, which is twice as fast as any other cyanobacterial strain identified to date. Moreover, it accumulates substantial biomass. Because of its rapid growth and large cell size, the team was able to sequence the genome, characterize the proteome, and manipulate the genetic system to turn on and off specific genes. The relative ease with which the team was able to accomplish these genetic manipulations, combined with the rapid growth rates, suggests that this strain could have significant bioenergy and biofuel potential.

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Yu, J., M. Liberton, P. F. Cliften, R. D. Head, J. M. Jacobs, R. D. Smith, D. W. Koppenaal, J. J. Brand, and H. B. Pakrasi. 2015. “Synechococcus elongatus UTEX 2973, a Fast Growing Cyanobacterial Chassis for Biosynthesis Using Light and CO2,” Scientific Reports 5:8132. DOI:10.1038/srep08132.