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Analytical approaches to photobiological hydrogen production in unicellular green algae


Several species of unicellular green algae, such as the model green microalga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, can operate under either aerobic photosynthesis or anaerobic metabolism conditions. A particularly interesting metabolic condition is that of “anaerobic oxygenic photosynthesis”, whereby photosynthetically generated oxygen is consumed by the cell’s own respiration, causing anaerobiosis in the culture in the light, and induction of the cellular “hydrogen metabolism” process. The latter entails an alternative photosynthetic electron transport pathway, through the oxygen-sensitive FeFe-hydrogenase, leading to the light-dependent generation of molecular hydrogen in the chloroplast. The FeFe-hydrogenase is coupled to the reducing site of photosystem-I via ferredoxin and is employed as an electron-pressure valve, through which electrons are dissipated, thus permitting a sustained electron transport in the thylakoid membrane of photosynthesis. This hydrogen gas generating process in the cells offers testimony to the unique photosynthetic metabolism that can be found in many species of green microalgae. Moreover, it has attracted interest by the biotechnology and bioenergy sectors, as it promises utilization of green microalgae and the process of photosynthesis in renewable energy production. This article provides an overview of the principles of photobiological hydrogen production in microalgae and addresses in detail the process of induction and analysis of the hydrogen metabolism in the cells. Furthermore, methods are discussed by which the interaction of photosynthesis, respiration, cellular metabolism, and H2 production in Chlamydomonas can be monitored and regulated.

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