Synthetic Biology of Cyanobacteria

The research is focused on synthetic biology and engineering of photosynthetic cyanobacteria as production hosts, as a foundation for new biotechnological applications. The objective is to establish novel production platforms which use cyanobacteria as biological catalysts to convert atmospheric carbon dioxide and water directly into desired industrial and consumer chemicals, using solar radiation as energy.

List of publications (.pdf)

Background

Cyanobacteria constitute a diverse phylum of photosynthetic prokaryotic microbes, which are distributed basically in all ecological niches on Earth with access to sun light. These unique microbes have the intrinsic capacity to utilize atmospheric CO2 as the primary carbon source, and to convert it into a wide range of organic molecules including sugars, proteins and lipids directly with the energy from the sun. If this potential could be efficiently harnessed for the biotechnological production of desired chemical compounds, we would have basically unlimited access to renewable resources without the need to rely on biomass-based production platforms – nor fossil reserves. This concept serves as the key motivation to our research carried out at the Molecular Plant Biology, University of Turku.

Research

We work at the interface of basic research and applied science. The aim is to understand the fundamental processes and molecular interactions in cyanobacteria, with the ultimate goal of utilizing this information for the rational design of autotrophic biotechnological production systems. The research is strongly focused on (i) establishing synthetic biology strategies and molecular biology tools, which allow more efficient engineering of cyanobacterial cells. This is combined with (ii) basic photosynthesis research to understand the associated molecular-level mechanisms and (iii) development and use of analytical tools and techniques for the characterization of cyanobacteria.


Potential commercially interesting targes that the cyanobacterial cells are engineered to produce include a range of potential biofuels, polymer precursors and bulk commodity chemicals.

Significance

The generation of validated species-specific synthetic biology strategies, associated genetic toolboxes and analytical methods are essential for rational engineering of cyanobacteria in an efficient and predictable manner. This know-how is required for achieving new biotechnological industrial solutions for producing desired carbon-based products directly from CO2 in large scale.

The research is part of the development towards overcoming the global challenges in fighting the climate change by replacing petroleum-based products with renewable sustainable alternatives.