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Role of Cyanobacterial Metabolism in Establishing Endosymbiosis

Plastids are the photosynthetically active organelle found in all recent photoautotrophic eukaryotes. All but one subfamily, ranging from red and green algae to higher plants can trace the origin of their plastids back to a single event of primary endosymbiosis 1.5 billion years ago. Here, a heterotrophic eukaryote engulfed a cyanobacterium, which was not digested but instead evolved into the ancestor of the plastids in the Archaeplastida.

We want to investigate the early stages of this endosymbiosis, where the endosymbiont still resembles a free-living cyanobacterium. For this relationship to be selected for, the relationship has to be beneficial for both partners even in these early stages. A likely factor that stabilized this interaction was metabolic connectivity, where the cyanobacterial cell efficiently exported fixed carbon to provide a benefit to the host cell. Additionally, there is evidence to suggest that Chlamydia-like, prokaryotic endoparasites aided the metabolic linking of the cyanobacterial and eukaryotic partners. Using cyanobacteria with an altered central carbon metabolism and chlamydial sugar-phosphate- and ATP-transporters we want to generate a minimal endosymbiotic metabolism in model cyanobacteria (Synechocystis PCC 6803 and Synechococcus UTEX 2973). The metabolic effects will be evaluated in detail to investigate the modified cyanobacteria’s potential to enable endosymbiosis.

Jan Matthis Hofer
Gebäude: 26.14
Etage/Raum: 02.102
+49 211 81-14368


Inorganic and Organic Carbon Utilization by Extremophile Red Algae

Unicellular algae are a highly diverse group of photosynthetic microorganisms that inhabit a wide range of diverse habitats. As the only photosynthetic eukaryotes, red algae of the class Cyanidiales thrive in extreme environments with low pH 0-4, high temperatures (up to 56°C) and high salinity making them ideal candidates for large-scale cultivation and industrial applications. 

All three genera of Cyanidiales (Cyanidioschyzon, Cyanidium and Galdieria) grow photoautotrophically using inorganic CO2 as a carbon source. However, Galdieria has evolved the ability to import and metabolize a wide range of organic carbon sources enabling heterotrophic and mixotrophic lifestyles. We want to understand (i) how inorganic carbon is efficiently fixed under low dissolved CO2 conditions (low pH), (ii) if and how simultaneous carbon acquisition through photosynthetic CO2 fixation and respiration of organic carbon facilitate mixotrophy in Galdieria, and (iii) how the mechanisms investigated in (i) and (ii) can be utilized or manipulated to increase growth rates and algal biomass. For this purpose, we perform comparative genomics of different algal strains, transcriptomic analyses (RNA-Seq) under different growth conditions, as well as analysis of steady-state metabolite levels and metabolic fluxes using isotope labeled metabolites by GC-MS and IC-MS.

Dr. Philipp Westhoff
Gebäude: 22.07
Etage/Raum: U1.043
+49 211 81-10926

Directing Carbon Flow towards Higher Biomass Production


Technological progress in microalgal cultivation is bringing about novel applications with great potential, not exempting wastewater management. In comparison to classical treatment plants, utilization of microalgae offers, next to valuable biomass, an advantage of negative carbon footprint. Microalgae can this way decrease the level of CO2 in the atmosphere, and thus help achieve the UN global targets for Climate Action.

We will screen existing microalgal libraries to select strains with the highest removal of nutrients and the most complete sanitation. We also want to determine the kinetics of carbon allocation of the most promising strains via isotopolog-profiling mass spectrometry and use this knowledge to maximize incorporation of respiratory CO2. In collaboration with the Centre for Synthetic Biology at HHU, we will employ the synthetic biology approaches to alter carbon allocation patterns for improved biomass production of the most suitable microalgal candidates. This project is a part of a larger concept – Active Carbon Capture for Sustainable Synthesis (ACCeSS). Herein, further processes will be developed to finally produce useful biopolymers and the novel application will be rigorously assessed for industrial suitability and compliance with highest biotechnological standards

Wiss. Mitarbeiter

Dr. Erik Chovancek
Niederheider Str. 22
Building Y20
40589 Düsseldorf