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60 years solitary confinement – green test tube biodiversity

Researchers at the Leibniz Institute DSMZ explore metabolic profiles of cyanobacteria

60 years solitary confinement - green test tube biodiversity

Light microscope images of the cyanobacteria © Jörn Petersen & Christian Boedeker, DSMZ

In their quest to find new model systems in cyanobacteria, Associate Professor Dr. Jörn Petersen and Junior Research Group leader Dr. Meina Neumann-Schaal of the Leibniz Institute DSMZ-German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Cultures compared the genome and metabolic profiles of six non-marine cyanobacteria. Their research revealed striking differences in the metabolic repertoire of these organisms und corroborated an entirely unexpected inter-species transfer of primary metabolism genes. Now, the scientists from Brunswick in northern Germany had their findings published in the renowned journal „Genome Biology and Evolution“.

After conducting an extensive comparison of the genome and metabolism of five different cyanobacteria (with Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 acting as reference strain), the researchers found not only substantial differences regarding the metabolic profiles of these different photosynthetic bacteria, but also demonstrated that the bacteria individually adapt to day-night-cycles. There were large discrepancies between the investigated strains with respect to the assimilation of the greenhouse gas CO2 and its storage in form of carbohydrates. The decrypted genomes form the basis of the understanding of such metabolic variety. For instance, one strain isolated in the Chilean Atacama Desert 60 years ago and ever since practically held in „solitary confinement“, the aptly named Calothrix desertica DSM 106972, contains three times as many genes as the reference organism. The results reveal the urgent necessity to utilise the biodiversity of cultivated cyanobacteria above and beyond the established model systems to allow the full exploitation of their hidden biotechnological potential.

Portrait cyanobacteria

Cyanobacteria are one of the oldest life forms on earth. For a long time, their appearance led scientists to mistakenly rank them among algae („blue-green algae“). But four decades ago, evidence emerged that these organisms represent their own phylum within the world of bacteria. They are one of the most important primary producers of the planet“s oceans and practically invented plant photosynthesis more than three billion years ago. These days they play an important role in biotechnology, including in the production of peptides, amino acids, vitamins and pigments. In the public eye, they mostly make an appearance when producing compounds toxic to humans and animals as a consequence of „algal bloom“ in warm summers. Last year, the Leibniz Institute DSMZ-German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Cultures expanded its collection by incorporating the organism-groups cyanobacteria and protists. Apart from their conservation and supply, the DSMZ in Brunswick also conducts extensive research on these microorganisms.

Die DSMZ ist eines der größten Bioressourcenzentren weltweit. Die Sammlung umfasst derzeit über 67.000 Kulturen, einschließlich über 35.000 verschiedene Bakterien- und 4000 Pilz-Stämme, 800 menschliche und tierische Zelllinien, 41 Pflanzenzelllinien, 1.400 Pflanzen-Viren und Antiseren und 13.000 verschiedene Typen genomischer Bakterien-DNA.

Leibniz-Institut DSMZ-Deutsche Sammlung von Mikroorganismen und Zellkulturen
Sven-David Müller
Inhoffenstraße 7 B
38124 Braunschweig

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