A 'B12 shot' for marine algae? Scientists find key protein for algae growth in the ocean

May 31, 2012

Scientists have revealed a key cog in the biochemical machinery that allows marine algae at the base of the oceanic food chain to thrive. They have discovered a previously unknown protein in algae that grabs an essential but scarce nutrient out of seawater, vitamin B12.

Many algae, as well as land-dwelling animals, including humans, require B12, but they cannot make it and must either acquire it from the environment or eat food that contains B12. Only certain single-celled bacteria and have the ability to synthesize B12, which is also known as cobalamin.

Studying algal cultures and seawater samples from the Southern Ocean off Antarctica, a team of researchers from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and the J. Craig Venter Institute found a protein they described as "the B12 claw." Stationed at the algae's cell walls, the protein appears to operate by binding B12 in the ocean and helping to bring it into the cell. When B12 supplies are scarce, algae compensate by producing more of the protein, officially known as cobalamin acquisition protein 1, or CBA1. The team reported their findings May 31 in .

Discovery of CBA1 illuminates a small but vital piece of the fundamental metabolic machinery that allows the growth of , which have critical impacts on the and on Earth's climate. Via photosynthesis, marine algae draw huge amounts of carbon dioxide, a , from the air, incorporating carbon into their bodies. The algae provide food that sets the food chain in motion. When they die or are eaten, some of the carbon ends up sinking to the ocean depths, where it cannot re-enter the atmosphere.

The discovery also opens the door for industrial or therapeutic applications. Since CBA1 is essential for marine , it could provide clues to how to promote growth of algae used to manufacture biofuels. Learning to manipulate the B12 of beneficial or detrimental microbes could eventually lead to antibiotic or antifungal medicines.

To discover CBA1, Erin Bertrand, a graduate student in the MIT/WHOI Joint Program in Oceanography, and her advisor, WHOI biogeochemist Mak Saito used an approach now common in biomedical research but only recently applied to marine science: proteomics, the study of the proteins organisms make to function in their environment and respond to changing conditions. Among thousands of other proteins present in the algae, they identified the novel CBA1 protein when it increased in abundance when the algae were starved of vitamin B12. They then worked with colleagues at the Venter Institute to demonstrate CBA1's function and its presence in the oceans.

Explore further: Japan lab cannot repeat ground-breaking cell finding: reports

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Sean_W
1 / 5 (1) May 31, 2012
"The discovery also opens the door for industrial or therapeutic applications. Since CBA1 is essential for marine algae growth, it could provide clues to how to promote growth of algae used to manufacture biofuels."


The algae can be used to manufacture expensive chemicals instead of fuel and save on the petrochemicals currently used. It seems impossible to get people to look at algae and other biomass as anything other than fuel even though chemical products should be far more lucrative at the onset. To their credit, the author does mention pharmaceuticals but replacements for petrochemicals is the real market for algae and biomass.
wwqq
not rated yet May 31, 2012
I'm not sure why people think algae biofuel wouldn't compete with food production. Algae oil is high quality oil, not very dissimilar to olive oil in characteristics. If it's not contaminated with pathogens, it will be used as a cheap source of protein and fat in feeds and foods.

Nobody sits and eats wheat berries with the chaff still attached, or wheat flour by the spoonful; likewise with algae, nobody is going to drink pondscum. But if it's cheaply available it will be processed in various ways and used in just about everything.
kaasinees
2 / 5 (4) May 31, 2012
Also algae farms require a lot of land and water unless you make one in the ocean where there is sun, and then you risk pushing away reefs.
Unless you build a current energy harvester and build the farm full with UV/blue leds and a pipeline to harvest the suckers.

Also a good way to treat waste water and they are still looking into that i hope.

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