FCCT Biochemistry Lab:Research:Cyanobacterial Biotechnology

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The great potential of Cyanobacteria

Cianobacteria evolved as first microorganisms that were able to use solar light as energy source to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen that slowly accumulated to such levels that other organisms could use it for breathing. As the name says, they are bacteria (although some still call them blue-green algae) with a rather typical prokaryotic cell structure and are thus in principle easy to study and modify.

Today, cyanobacteria still produce a large part of the oxygen on this planet. They live in oceans, lakes and rivers, but they can also be found in soil and elsewhere. Under the microscope, they appear as multicellular threads or as single cells or small groups of cells. The range and abundance of cyanobacteria is enormous.

Several cyanobacterial species are exploited for different applications, from food supplements to biomass and biofuel production. Their potential can be further expanded by genetic modifications. Several strains are naturally competent, which means they spontaneously accept foreign DNA. We just have to find the missing genes and incorporate them together with compatible regulatory elements.

Our aims

We believe cyanobacterial cells are as difficult to work with just as this was the case 30 years ago. There was little progress in making these cells user-friendly for researchers and engineers who would like to genetically modify cyanobacteria. There are several problems we would like to tackle, the first being biosafety. Cyanobacteria that are standardly used in laboratories around the world were isolated from nature and they can survive in nature if they are released from laboratories. Genetic modifications might impose a load that can reduce the fitness of gentically modified cells in the environment, but this cannot be taken as a serious safety measure. We would thus like to genetically modify cyanobacteria in a way that would prevent laboratory strains from growing outside a laboratory or a photobioreactor. This is the main goal of our research within the EU FP7 project entitled CyanoFactory, where we will use synthetic biology approaches for improved biosafety of cyanobacteria.

In addition, we would like to expand the range of useful vectors and promoters, specially for (over)production of proteins of interest. We would like to prepare plasmid-derived vectors and develop protocols for gene cloning and expression in cyanobacteria.

Cyanobacterial and algal biotechnology will remain one of our focuses in establishing biorefineries for low- and high-value products as well as in optimizing growth parameters and biofilm formation. As an example, we are attempting to use cyanobacteria for bioremediation.

Who we are

  • Marko Dolinar, associate professor and PI
  • Helena Čelešnik, PhD, staff researcher
  • Marina Klemenčič, PhD, teaching assistant
  • Mojca Juteršek, Jernej Mustar, Žan Železnik, Angelika Vižintin, Jure Zabret (Biochemistry MSc students)
  • Monika Pepelnjak, Aneja Tahirovič, Anja Tramšek (Biochemistry BSc students)
  • Janvit Teržan, BSc

Vita Vidmar (BSc student 2014/15), Janvit Teržan (research training 2014), Dejan Marjanovič (BSc student 2013/14), Valter Bergant (BSc student 2012/13), Blaž Bakalar (BSc student 2012/13), Kristina Bremec (BSc student 2011/12), Sabina Kolar (BSc student 2011/12)

(last updated Nov. 9, 2015)