Prof. Dörmann (left) and his doctoral student Mohammed Aizouq with two different cyanobacteria cultures. Photo: Yannic Müller/Uni Bonn
Cyanobacteria – colloquially also called blue-green algae – can produce oil from water and carbon dioxide with the help of light. This is shown by a recent study by the University of Bonn. The result is unexpected: Until now, it was believed that this ability was reserved for plants. It is possible that blue-green algae will now also become interesting as suppliers of feed or fuel, especially since they do not require arable land.
The results have now been published in the journal PNAS.
What do rapeseed, avocado and olive tree have in common? They are all used by humans as producers of oil or fat. However, the ability to produce oil from water and carbon dioxide with the help of light is something that is essentially common to all plants, from unicellular algae to the giant sequoia trees. “We have now shown for the first time that cyanobacteria can do the same,” explains biologist Prof. Dr. Peter Dörmann from the Institute of Molecular Physiology and Biotechnology of Plants (IMBIO) at the University of Bonn. “This was a complete surprise, not only to us.”
Until now, experts had assumed that cyanobacteria lack this property. After all, they are actually bacteria, even if their trivial name “blue-green algae” suggests otherwise. They therefore differ considerably from plants in many respects: Cyanobacteria are closer related to the intestinal bacterium E. coli than to an olive tree. “There are indeed ancient reports in the literature that cyanobacteria can contain oil,” says Dörmann. “But these have never been verified.”
The scientist has been working at IMBIO for many years on an enzyme that catalyzes one of the steps in oil synthesis in plants. The enzyme is active in the chloroplasts, the green-colored cell components that are responsible for photosynthesis. It is thanks to these that plants can produce energy-rich chemical compounds with the help of sunlight.
Many scientists suspect that chloroplasts originally come from cyanobacteria. This is because they, unlike all other groups of bacteria, also master the photosynthesis typical of plants, with the release of oxygen. According to this theory, more than a billion years ago, a primordial plant cell “swallowed” a cyanobacterium. The bacterium then lived on in the cell and supplied it with photosynthesis products. “If this endosymbiont hypothesis is correct, then the oil synthesis enzyme of the chloroplasts might originally come from cyanobacteria,” explains Dörmann.
Oil synthesis enzyme similar to that of plants
He pursued this possibility together with his doctoral student Mohammed Aizouq. The scientists searched the genomes of various cyanobacteria for a gene that is similar to the genetic make-up of the enzyme involved in plant oil synthesis. With success: They found a gene for a so-called acyltransferase in the blue-green algae; the plant enzyme also belongs to this group. Further tests showed that cyanobacteria do actually produce oil with this enzyme, even if only in small quantities.
The result is on the one hand interesting from an evolutionary-biological point of view: It shows that a certain part of the oil synthesis machinery in the chloroplasts of the plants probably originates from cyanobacteria. However, plants today mainly use other metabolic pathways to produce oil. Furthermore, the result may open up new possibilities for producing animal feed or biofuels. This is because, unlike oil plants such as rapeseed, cyanobacteria do not need arable land to grow – a container with culture medium and sufficient light and heat is enough for them.
This may make them suitable for deserts, for example, where they can be used to produce oils for car engines without competing with food crops. Especially since combustion would only release the carbon dioxide that the cyanobacteria had previously extracted from the air during oil production. The microorganisms would thus make a contribution to climate protection. In any case, the cyanobacteria living in the world’s oceans bind considerable quantities of the greenhouse gas. It is estimated that without their contribution, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would be twice as high.
“Similar experiments are already underway with green algae,” explains Dörmann. “However, these are more difficult to maintain; moreover, they cannot be easily biotechnologically optimized to achieve the highest possible oil production rate.” This could be different with cyanobacteria. The species studied at the University of Bonn produces only very small amounts of oil. “It is nevertheless quite possible that other species are considerably more productive,” says the biologist. Furthermore, blue-green algae can be genetically modified relatively easily, similar to other bacteria. “It is therefore certainly possible that the oil yield could be significantly increased again with biotechnological means.”
The Latest Updates from Bing News & Google News
Go deeper with Bing News on:
- Blue-green algae confirmed in Safety Bayon October 6, 2020 at 2:50 pm
KENORA – The presence of blue-green algae has been confirmed in Lake of the Woods. Ontario’s Ministry of Environment confirmed the find in a water sample collected at Safety Bay in Kenora, the ...
- Health officials warn against recreating at Lacamas Lake due to blue-green algae levelson October 2, 2020 at 12:39 pm
Public health officials in Clark County are warning the public against recreating at Lacamas Lake after test results showed elevated levels of blue-green algae in the water. According to Clack County ...
- Blue-green algae in Nipissing's south shore areaon October 1, 2020 at 5:57 am
NIPISSING TOWNSHIP — A harmful algal bloom (cyanobacteria), also known as blue-green algae, has been found in the south shore area of Lake Nipissing, The North Bay Parry Sound District ...
- Stay Out Of The Charles River: Toxic Blue-Green Algae, E. Colion September 30, 2020 at 2:52 pm
The Charles River Watershed Association issued the cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, advisory Wednesday. "It is recommended that you avoid contact with the water," according to the ...
- Blue-Green Algae Found In 3 Providence, Cranston Waterbodieson September 28, 2020 at 5:35 pm
CRANSTON, RI — Toxic blue-green algae blooms were found in three Providence and Cranston ponds and lakes, the Department of Environmental Management said. The public is urged to avoid any contact with ...
Go deeper with Google Headlines on:
Go deeper with Bing News on:
- Imperial Oil (IMO) versus The Competition Financial Contraston October 6, 2020 at 10:47 pm
Imperial Oil (NYSE: IMO) is one of 29 public companies in the “Petroleum refining” industry, but how does it contrast to its competitors? We will compare Imperial Oil to related businesses based on ...
- The Best Synthetic Brushes for Acrylics Will Last Through Intensive Projectson October 3, 2020 at 12:28 pm
Acrylic paints can really destroy natural-hair brushes. And, as it turns out, many materials used with said natural-hair brushes, like oils and turpentine, actually repel acrylic paint themselves.
- Synthetic Paper Market Size, Analytical Overview, Growth Factors, Demand, Trends and Forecast to 2026on October 2, 2020 at 12:38 pm
The Market Insights Reports has added a new statistical market report to its repository titled as, Synthetic Paper Market. It provides the industry overview with market growth analysis with a ...
- Automotive Engine Oil Coolant Market By Current Industry Status, Growth Opportunities, Top Key Players, Target Audience And Forecast To 2027on September 30, 2020 at 6:46 am
The global Automotive Engine Oil Coolant market garnered revenue around USD XX Billion in 2019 and projected to ...
- Synthetic Aperture Radar Market Size Is Estimated To Reach $4.98 Billion By 2027 | Grand View Research, Inc.on September 28, 2020 at 10:10 am
Market Research And Consulting.” According to report published by Grand View Research, The global synthetic aperture ...