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Biochimie. 1999 Jun;81(6):631-43.

Mutants of Chlamydomonas: tools to study thylakoid membrane structure, function and biogenesis.

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Laboratoire de Physiologie Membranaire et Mol├ęculaire du Chloroplaste, CNRS-UPR 1261, Institut de Biologie Physico-Chimique, Paris, France.


The unicellular green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii is a model system for the study of photosynthesis and chloroplast biogenesis. C. reinhardtii has a photosynthesis apparatus similar to that of higher plants and it grows at rapid rate (generation time about 8 h). It is a facultative phototroph, which allows the isolation of mutants unable to perform photosynthesis and its sexual cycle allows a variety of genetic studies. Transformation of the nucleus and chloroplast genomes is easily performed. Gene transformation occurs mainly by homologous recombination in the chloroplast and heterologous recombination in the nucleus. Mutants are precious tools for studies of thylakoid membrane structure, photosynthetic function and assembly. Photosynthesis mutants affected in the biogenesis of a subunit of a protein complex usually lack the entire complex; this pleiotropic effect has been used in the identification of the other subunits, in the attribution of spectroscopic signals and also as a 'genetic cleaning' process which facilitates both protein complex purification, absorption spectroscopy studies or freeze-fracture analysis. The cytochrome b6f complex is not required for the growth of C. reinhardtii, unlike the case of photosynthetic prokaryotes in which the cytochrome complex is also part of the respiratory chain, and can be uniquely studied in Chlamydomonas by genetic approaches. We describe in greater detail the use of Chlamydomonas mutants in the study of this complex.

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