Scheme: University Research Fellowship
Organisation: Newcastle University
Dates: Nov 2013-Oct 2018
Summary: To grow and develop, all living beings need to decode the information stored in their DNA. This decoding process is called gene expression. The aim of my project is to study gene expression in cyanobacteria.
Why study cyanobacteria:
i) Cyanobacteria, together with plant chloroplasts, are able to perform oxygenic photosynthesis, the main process to capture the energy of sunlight and to transform it into oxygen and food for other organisms. They produce 30% of atmospheric oxygen and recycle substantial proportion of CO2. They are essential organisms for our understanding and potential modelling of the global processes, including climate change.
ii) Cyanobacteria can be applied for greenhouse gas fixing and cleaning water from industrial pollutants. Genetically engineered cyanobacteria can produce biofuels and other compounds, supplied with little more than a tap water and light. However, currently we lack sufficient knowledge of their biology to be able to manipulate them efficiently on the industrial scale.
iii) Since ancient cyanobacteria were captured and became chloroplasts, they have little chance to improve. As a result, currently, photosynthesis is more efficient in cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria can be used as model system to enhance chloroplasts. For example, recently engineered plants with two genes from cyanobacteria promise to improve the yields of food crops.
We are one of the first groups to look into molecular details of the first stage of cyanobacterial gene expression, transcription. We have found that cyanobacteria use unique mechanisms to control their transcription, which set them apart from the rest of bacterial kingdom. Currently we are investigating the role of these mechanisms in adaptation to photosynthetic lifestyle, which will improve our understanding of biology of cyanobacteria and eventually their exploitability in biotechnology. This knowledge may contribute towards understanding of the photosynthetic genes expression in chloroplasts.