Photosynthetic Microbes

Cyanobacteria and algae are model organisms for the study of oxygenic photosynthesis and are also promising feed-stocks for blue biorefineries. Our team is focused on identification of ‘waste’ points in photosynthetic electron transport leading to the loss of productivity. We are also studying the biodiversity of Nordic microalgae for production of biofuels, high-value products and wastewater remediation and developing immobilization techniques to increase light-to-product conversion efficiency.

Background

Oxygenic photosynthetic microorganisms are able to harness solar energy and convert polluting CO2 into useful chemicals and organic matter. Photosynthesis is an unique process responsible for generation of all biomass in the nature and thus, is the fundamental basis for biorefineries. We employ a system biology approach to understand the molecular mechanisms of regulation in cyanobacteria and green algae in order to enhance their photosynthetic productivity towards desired end-products. We are active in three distinct, yet related areas of research: (i) fundamental studies of photosynthesis in cyanobacteria and green algae; (ii) development of immobilization techniques for improving light utilization efficiency; and (iii) investigation of biodiversity of Nordic cyanobacteria and green algae as a source of fine chemicals and biofuels, and their application in waste-water treatment.

Research

(i) We study alternative photosynthetic electron transport pathways under different environmental conditions. The major research objectives are the elucidation of the function of flavodiiron proteins, explanation of the cross-talk of photosynthetic light reactions and respiratory electron transport chain, and understanding the distribution of photosynthetic electrons to hydrogenases and/or nitrogenases.
 
(ii) We apply advanced immobilization approaches for the entrapment of cells within mechanically-stable biodegradable tailored polymeric matrices in order to increase the ‘light-to-product’ conversion efficiency and to facilitate microalgae separation and harvest of biomass.
 
(iii) We routinely screen a large Finnish culture collection for cyanobacterial and algal strains demonstrating superior properties towards efficient production of lipid-based biofuels, bioH2, high-value compounds and wastewater remediation. The most promising candidate strains are subject to systems biology analysis for better understanding the cell metabolism and for elucidation of superior genetic and metabolic traits.
 

Significance

We believe that photosynthetic aquatic microorganisms will serve as an efficient feedstock for the profitable and environmentally sound production of high-value compounds, nutraceuticals, and food and feed additives and thus, will be a major contributor to the blue bioeconomy. Outcomes of our current research will guide future genetic and metabolic engineering efforts to modulate the major energetic pathways in order to avoid ‘wasteful’ electron flow and to channel major electron flux to targeted end-products.