How Algae Survives Excess Oxygen

  Algae Europe December 2022

A new study from the Michigan State University-DOE Plant Research Laboratory (PRL) shows how some algae can protect themselves when the oxygen they produce impairs their photosynthetic activity. The discovery also answers a long-standing question about how algae survive when CO₂ levels are low.

In photosynthesis, plants and algae use solar energy to take carbon dioxide (CO₂) from the air and synthesize sugars. This process produces oxygen as a byproduct. However, oxygen impairs the activity of key photosynthetic reactions. When algae are grown in dense ponds for bioenergy production, this becomes an obstacle.

Growing algae for biofuel production can be sped up by fertilizing the cultures with CO₂. However, when algal growth is increased, oxygen output from photosynthesis increases as well, which leads to an accumulation of oxygen in the culture. This exposure to excess oxygen is called hyperoxia.

“The overall goal was to understand how algae respond to hyperoxia, as a first step to making bioenergy strains that are more tolerant to such stresses and thus more productive,” said Peter Neofotis, the first author of the paper and postdoctoral researcher in the Kramer lab.

This work from the Kramer lab was published in eLife.

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