RICHLAND, Wash. Scientists have charted a significant signaling network in a tiny organism that's big in the world of biofuels research. The findings about how a remarkably fast-growing organism conducts its metabolic business bolster scientists' ability to create biofuels using the hardy microbe Synechococcus, which turns sunlight into useful energy.
The team at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory glimpsed key chemical events, known as redox reactions, inside living cells of the organism. The publication in ACS Chemical Biology marks the first time that redox activity, a very fast regulatory network involved in all major aspects of a cell's operation, has been observed in specific proteins within living cells.
The findings hone scientists' control over a common tool in the biofuels toolbox. At a more basic level, the work gives researchers the newfound ability to witness a basic biological process that occurs every moment in everything from bacteria to people.
"Redox activity tells us where the action is going on within a cell," said chemist Aaron Wright, the leader of the PNNL team whose project was funded by DOE's Office of Science. "We've been able to get a look at the redox system while it's still operating in a living cell, without destroying the cell first. This allows us to tell who the players are when the cells are engaged in the activity of our choice, like making components for biofuels."
Redox activity is one of the most powerful tools an organism has to sense and adapt to a changing environment; it's particularly active in plants that must respond constantly to changing conditions, such as light and dark.
The PNNL study was aimed at ferreting out proteins that are potential redox players in the cyanobacterium Synechococcus. Cyanobacteria absorb light energy from the sun and use it to convert carbon dioxide into food and other molecules, while also givi
|Contact: Tom Rickey|
DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory