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April 20th 2019

A team of scientists from the University of Amsterdam has managed to improve the growth of cyanobacteria. That is useful because these bacteria can convert sunlight and CO2 into sugars. The problem up until now was that the cyanobacteria only ever wanted to grow optimally for a short period of time.

So far we have mainly obtained sugars and carbohydrates from grains, potatoes and sugar beet. But cyanobacteria can perform photosynthesis even more efficiently. And they are less fussy. They do not need fertile agricultural land and they require little water. Furthermore, they are far easier to modify genetically. This means it is also easy to make them produce other biomaterials very efficiently as well. These are useful characteristics for the transition to a bio-based economy.

Exponential growth
Scientists and producers have therefore been culturing cyanobacteria for decades. However the culture conditions were poorly defined. Up until now these bacteria were very often grown at low light levels. Therefore the bacteria often exhibited linear growth instead of the desired exponential growth. That makes a good physiological characterisation difficult.

From microlitres to a cubic metre
The research group led by Filipe Branco dos Santos and Klaas Hellingwerf has developed culturing systems for cyanobacteria in which they can regulate the growth conditions very precisely. The culturing systems work in small droplets and wells of one to several tens of microlitres up to reactors of more than a cubic metre.

Training the circadian rhythm
The researchers focused mainly on the cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC6803. The research led to several insights. For example, after two days of training the researchers could make the bacteria exhibit a good circadian rhythm under continuous lighting. The scientists also successfully developed an algorithm with which they can continually adapt the light intensity during the growth of the bacteria. This allows them to achieve sustained exponential growth with continuous light. According to the scientists these breakthroughs can bring the computational analysis of growth and product formation in cyanobacteria to a new level.

Further information
www.biosolarcells.nl : website with more information about research projects on the design of artificial and natural solar cells.