C. reinhartii, a common inhabitant of soils, naturally produces small quantities of hydrogen when deprived of oxygen. Like yeast and other microbes, under anaerobic conditions this alga generates its energy from fermentation.
During fermentation, hydrogen is released though the action of an enzyme called hydrogenase, powered by electrons generated by either the breakdown of organic compounds or the splitting of water by photosynthesis. Normally, only a small fraction of the electrons go into generating hydrogen. However, a major research goal has been to develop ways to increase this fraction, which would raise the potential yield of hydrogen.
In the new study by Dubini et al*, published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, researchers at the Carnegie Institution's Department of Plant Biology, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and the Colorado School of Mines (CSM), examined metabolic processes in a mutant strain that was unable to assemble an active hydrogenase enzyme. The researchers, who include Alexandra Dubini (NREL), Florence Mus (Carnegie), Michael Seibert (NREL), Matthew Posewitz (CSM), and Arthur Grossman (Carnegie), expected the cell's metabolism to compensate by increasing metabolite flow along other known fermentation pathways, such as those producing formate and ethanol as end products.
Instead, the algae activated a pathway leading to the production of succinate, which was previously not associated with fermentation metabolism in C. reinhardtii. Notably, succinate, a widely used industrial chemical normally synthesized from petroleum, is included in the Department of Energy's list of the top 12 value added chemicals from biomass.
"We actually didn't know that this particular pathway for fermentation metabolism existed in the alga until we generated the mutant," says Carnegie's Arthur Grossman. "This finding suggests that there is significant flexibility in the ways that soil-dwelling green algae can metabolize carbon under anaerobic conditions. By blocking and modifying some of these metabolic pathways, we may be able to augment the donation of electrons to hydrogenase under anaerobic conditions and produce elevated levels of hydrogen."
Grossman points out that it makes evolutionary sense that a soil organism such as Chlamydomonas would have a variety of metabolic pathways at its disposal. Oxygen levels, nutrient availability, and levels of metals and toxins can be extremely variable in soils, over both the short and long term. "In such an environment", Grossman says, "these organisms must evolve flexible metabolic circuits; the variety of conditions to which the organisms are exposed might favor one pathway for energy metabolism over another, which would help the organism compete in the soil environment over evolutionary time."
Grossman led the effort to generate a fully sequenced Chlamydomonas genome, which has allowed researchers to identify key genes encoding proteins involved in both fermentation and hydrogen production. Grossman feels that it is of immediate importance to generate new mutant strains to help us understand how we may be able to alter fermentation metabolism and the production of hydrogen. NREL's Michael Seibert, the project's Principal Investigator, observed that "the overarching goal of the work is to gain a fundamental understanding of the total suite of metabolic processes occurring in Chlamydomonas and how they interact; this discovery effort will lead to the development of novel ways to produce renewable hydrogen and other biofuels, which will benefit all of us".
"These are really exciting times in the field," says Matthew Posewitz. "The tools developed at Carnegie and by other groups in the field are presenting unprecedented opportunities for scientists to make important advances in our understanding of the basic biology of organisms such as Chlamydomonas."
As an energy source to potentially replace fossil fuels, hydrogen would greatly reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. Proponents of algal-based hydrogen production point out that, unlike ethanol produced from crops, it would not compete with food production for agricultural land.
The Project is being supported by the US Department of Energy's GTL Program within the Office of Biological and Environmental Research.
*Alexandra Dubini, Florence Mus, Michael Seibert, Arthur R. Grossman and Matthew C. Posewitz, "Flexibility in Anaerobic Metabolism as Revealed in a Mutant of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii Lacking Hydrogenase Activity," Journal of Biological Chemistry, 284: 7201-7213.
The Carnegie Institution (www.CIW.edu) has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research since 1902. It is a private, nonprofit organization with six research departments throughout the U.S. Carnegie scientists are leaders in plant biology, developmental biology, astronomy, materials science, global ecology, and Earth and planetary science. The Colorado School of Mines is a public research university dedicated to the responsible stewardship of the earth and its resources. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory is the U.S. Department of Energy's primary laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development.
Arthur Grossman | EurekAlert!
Further reports about: > CHEMISTRY > CSM > Chlamydomonas genome > Chlamydomonas reinhardtii > Hydrogenase > NREL > Renewable Energy Outlook 2030 > anaerobic conditions > energy from fermentation > enzyme > fermentation pathway > greenhouse gas > hydrogen production > hydrogen-producing algae > metabolic pathways > metabolic process > metabolite flow > microbes > photosynthesis > renewable energy > single-celled green alga
Newly designed molecule binds nitrogen
23.02.2018 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg
Atomic Design by Water
23.02.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Eisenforschung GmbH
A newly developed laser technology has enabled physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (jointly run by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics) to generate attosecond bursts of high-energy photons of unprecedented intensity. This has made it possible to observe the interaction of multiple photons in a single such pulse with electrons in the inner orbital shell of an atom.
In order to observe the ultrafast electron motion in the inner shells of atoms with short light pulses, the pulses must not only be ultrashort, but very...
A group of researchers led by Andrea Cavalleri at the Max Planck Institute for Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) in Hamburg has demonstrated a new method enabling precise measurements of the interatomic forces that hold crystalline solids together. The paper Probing the Interatomic Potential of Solids by Strong-Field Nonlinear Phononics, published online in Nature, explains how a terahertz-frequency laser pulse can drive very large deformations of the crystal.
By measuring the highly unusual atomic trajectories under extreme electromagnetic transients, the MPSD group could reconstruct how rigid the atomic bonds are...
Quantum computers may one day solve algorithmic problems which even the biggest supercomputers today can’t manage. But how do you test a quantum computer to...
For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.
In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...
Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale
Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...
15.02.2018 | Event News
13.02.2018 | Event News
12.02.2018 | Event News
23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
23.02.2018 | Health and Medicine
23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy