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PLoS One. 2013 Apr 16;8(4):e61375. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0061375. Print 2013.

RNAi knock-down of LHCBM1, 2 and 3 increases photosynthetic H2 production efficiency of the green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii.

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The University of Queensland, Institute for Molecular Bioscience, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.


Single cell green algae (microalgae) are rapidly emerging as a platform for the production of sustainable fuels. Solar-driven H2 production from H2O theoretically provides the highest-efficiency route to fuel production in microalgae. This is because the H2-producing hydrogenase (HYDA) is directly coupled to the photosynthetic electron transport chain, thereby eliminating downstream energetic losses associated with the synthesis of carbohydrate and oils (feedstocks for methane, ethanol and oil-based fuels). Here we report the simultaneous knock-down of three light-harvesting complex proteins (LHCMB1, 2 and 3) in the high H2-producing Chlamydomonas reinhardtii mutant Stm6Glc4 using an RNAi triple knock-down strategy. The resultant Stm6Glc4L01 mutant exhibited a light green phenotype, reduced expression of LHCBM1 (20.6% ±0.27%), LHCBM2 (81.2% ±0.037%) and LHCBM3 (41.4% ±0.05%) compared to 100% control levels, and improved light to H2 (180%) and biomass (165%) conversion efficiencies. The improved H2 production efficiency was achieved at increased solar flux densities (450 instead of ∼100 µE m(-2) s(-1)) and high cell densities which are best suited for microalgae production as light is ideally the limiting factor. Our data suggests that the overall improved photon-to-H2 conversion efficiency is due to: 1) reduced loss of absorbed energy by non-photochemical quenching (fluorescence and heat losses) near the photobioreactor surface; 2) improved light distribution in the reactor; 3) reduced photoinhibition; 4) early onset of HYDA expression and 5) reduction of O2-induced inhibition of HYDA. The Stm6Glc4L01 phenotype therefore provides important insights for the development of high-efficiency photobiological H2 production systems.

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