Red algae, in contrast, use a slightly different mechanism and are thus more productive. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (MPIB) in Martinsried near Munich have now identified a so far unknown helper protein for photosynthesis in red algae. “We could elucidate its structure and its intriguing mechanism,” says Manajit Hayer-Hartl, MPIB group leader. “Comparing its mechanism to the one in green plants could help to design more efficient plants.” Their work has led to two recent publications in Nature and Nature Structural & Molecular Biology.
The helper protein (blue) pulls at one end of Rubisco (multicolored) and thus, releases the sugar. The blockade is lifted. Graphic: Manajit Hayer-Hartl / Copyright: Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry
Green plants, algae and plankton metabolize carbon dioxide (CO2) and water into oxygen and sugar in the presence of light. Without this process called photosynthesis, today’s life on earth would not be possible. The key protein of this process, called Rubisco, is thus one of the most important proteins in nature. It bonds with carbon dioxide and starts its conversion into sugar and oxygen.
„Despite its fundamental importance, Rubisco is an enzyme fraught with shortcomings“, says Manajit Hayer-Hartl, head of the Research Group “Chaperonin-assisted Protein Folding” at the MPIB. One of the problems is that Rubisco binds to wrong sugar molecules that inhibit its activity. The inhibitors have to be removed by a special helper protein, called Rubisco activase. The Max Planck scientists now discovered that during evolution two different Rubisco activases developed in plants and in red algae. They differ in structure and in their working mechanism.
M. Stotz, O. Mueller-Cajar, S. Ciniawsky, P. Wendler, F. U. Hartl, A. Bracher & M. Hayer-Hartl: Structure of green-type Rubisco activase from tobacco. Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, November 6, 2011Contact:
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