Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis and Arizona State University have sequenced the genome of a rare bacterium that harvests light energy by making an even rarer form of chlorophyll, chlorophyll d. Chlorophyll d absorbs red edge, near infrared, long wave length light, invisible to the naked eye.
In so doing, the cyanobacterium Acaryochloris marina, competes with virtually no other plant or bacterium in the world for sunlight. As a result, its genome is massive for a cyanobacterium, comprising 8.3 million base pairs, and sophisticated. The genome is among the very largest of 55 cyanobacterial strains in the world sequenced thus far, and it is the first chlorophyll d containing organism to be sequenced .
Robert Blankenship. Ph.D., Lucille P. Markey Distinguished Professor in Arts & Sciences at Washington University, and principal investigator of the project, said with every gene of Acaryochloris marina now sequenced and annotated, the immediate goal is to find the enzyme that causes a chemical structure change in chlorophyll d, making it different from primarily chlorophyll a, and b, but also from about nine other forms of chlorophyll.
The synthesis of chlorophyll by an organism is complex, involving 17 different steps in all, Blankenship said. Some place near the end of this process an enzyme transforms a vinyl group to a formyl group to make chlorophyll d. This transformation of chemical forms is not known in any other chlorophyll molecules.
Blankenship said he and his collaborators have some candidate genes they will test. They hope to insert these genes into an organism that makes just chlorophyll a. If the organism learns to synthesize chlorophyll d with one of the genes, the mystery of chlorophyll d synthesis will be solved, and then the excitement will begin.
Blankenship and his colleagues from both institutions published a paper on their work in the Fe
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Washington University in St. Louis