News Feature | January 6, 2014

Tricking Circadian Clocks In Algae Leads To Possible Economic Stability For Biotech Companies

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By Cassandra Leger

Biological clocks which drive circadian rhythms are ubiquitous in nature. New research published by Carl Johnson and colleagues at Vanderbilt University has demonstrated how manipulation of simple organism biological clocks can increase production of commercially relevant biological compounds.

Johnson and team have developed a method to arrest the cyclical expression of clock genes in cyanobacteria in the daylight mode. Through a detailed understanding of the cyanobacteria molecular clock, the team pinpointed two genes responsible for turning “on” and “off” the clock. When expression of the “on” gene is upregulated, the majority of the cell’s genes which are normally active in daylight conditions are expressed.

A manipulation of this nature is simple in an organism like cyanobacteria. Interestingly, this genetically induced state has more dramatic effects on the bacteria’s ability to produce valuable compounds than housing the algae in constant light conditions. The research demonstrated that cyanobacteria with locked clocks have the ability to produce 500% more insulin under constant light as to cyanobacteria with normal clocks.

This methodology and research findings are significant as blue-green algae are used for commercial purposes and have many industrial applications. The use of algae in commercial applications ranges from anti-cancer drug production to the creation of substances that are too difficult or expensive for biotech companies to synthesize. Cyanobacteria should not be overlooked as viable candidates for drug discovery.

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