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Front. Microbiol., 27 August 2013 | http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2013.00246

Synthetic biology of cyanobacteria: unique challenges and opportunities

  • 1Department of Energy, Environmental, and Chemical Engineering, Washington University, St. Louis, MO, USA
  • 2Department of Chemical Engineering, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA
  • 3Department of Biology, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO, USA

Photosynthetic organisms, and especially cyanobacteria, hold great promise as sources of renewably-produced fuels, bulk and specialty chemicals, and nutritional products. Synthetic biology tools can help unlock cyanobacteria's potential for these functions, but unfortunately tool development for these organisms has lagged behind that for S. cerevisiae and E. coli. While these organisms may in many cases be more difficult to work with as “chassis” strains for synthetic biology than certain heterotrophs, the unique advantages of autotrophs in biotechnology applications as well as the scientific importance of improved understanding of photosynthesis warrant the development of these systems into something akin to a “green E. coli.” In this review, we highlight unique challenges and opportunities for development of synthetic biology approaches in cyanobacteria. We review classical and recently developed methods for constructing targeted mutants in various cyanobacterial strains, and offer perspective on what genetic tools might most greatly expand the ability to engineer new functions in such strains. Similarly, we review what genetic parts are most needed for the development of cyanobacterial synthetic biology. Finally, we highlight recent methods to construct genome-scale models of cyanobacterial metabolism and to use those models to measure properties of autotrophic metabolism. Throughout this paper, we discuss some of the unique challenges of a diurnal, autotrophic lifestyle along with how the development of synthetic biology and biotechnology in cyanobacteria must fit within those constraints.

Keywords: cyanobacteria, synthetic biology, systems biology, biofuel, flux balance analysis, metabolic flux analysis

Citation: Berla BM, Saha R, Immethun CM, Maranas CD, Moon TS and Pakrasi HB (2013) Synthetic biology of cyanobacteria: unique challenges and opportunities. Front. Microbiol. 4:246. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2013.00246

Received: 14 June 2013; Accepted: 05 August 2013;
Published online: 27 August 2013.

Edited by:

Aindrila Mukhopadhyay, Lawrence Berkeley National Berkeley, USA

Reviewed by:

Dong-Woo Lee, Kyungpook National University, South Korea
Patrick Hallenbeck, University of Montreal, Canada

Copyright © 2013 Berla, Saha, Immethun, Maranas, Moon and Pakrasi. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Himadri B. Pakrasi, Department of Biology, Washington University in St. Louis, Campus Box 1095, One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO 63130-4899, USA e-mail: pakrasi@wustl.edu