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Shoe strings and egg openers: Scientists discover photosynthesis helper protein in red algae

Date:
November 8, 2011
Source:
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Summary:
Photosynthesis is one of the most important biological processes. However, it is less efficient in plants than it could be. Red algae, in contrast, use a slightly different mechanism and are thus more productive. Scientists in Germany have now identified a so far unknown helper protein for photosynthesis in red algae.

The helper protein (blue) pulls on one end of Rubisco (coloured) and frees up the sugar. The blockage is lifted.
Credit: Manajit Hayer-Hartl / Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry

Green plants, algae and plankton metabolize carbon dioxide (CO2) and water into oxygen and sugar in the presence of light. Without this process called photosynthesis, today's life on Earth would not be possible. The key protein of this process, called Rubisco, is thus one of the most important proteins in nature. It bonds with carbon dioxide and starts its conversion into sugar and oxygen.

"Despite its fundamental importance, Rubisco is an enzyme fraught with shortcomings," says Manajit Hayer-Hartl, head of the Research Group "Chaperonin-assisted Protein Folding" at the MPIB.

One of the problems is that Rubisco binds to the wrong sugar molecules that inhibit its activity. The inhibitors have to be removed by a special helper protein, called Rubisco activase. The Max Planck scientists discovered that during evolution two different Rubisco activases developed in plants and in red algae. They differ in structure and in their working mechanism.

Two ways of restoring activity

The newly discovered Rubisco activase in red algae repairs useless Rubisco proteins by pulling on one end of the protein, like someone who opens a shoe string. In doing so, the helper protein opens the active centre of Rubisco and releases the inhibitory sugar. The respective Rubisco activase in green plants works more like an egg opener, squeezing the inactive Rubisco protein and forcing it to let go of the sugar molecules.

"Understanding the structure and function of the two activase helper proteins should facilitate efforts in biotechnology to generate plants and microorganisms that are able to convert more CO2 into valuable biomass than nature does," hopes Manajit Hayer-Hartl.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal References:

  1. Oliver Mueller-Cajar, Mathias Stotz, Petra Wendler, F. Ulrich Hartl, Andreas Bracher, Manajit Hayer-Hartl. Structure and function of the AAA+ protein CbbX, a red-type Rubisco activase. Nature, 2011; 479 (7372): 194 DOI: 10.1038/nature10568
  2. Mathias Stotz, Oliver Mueller-Cajar, Susanne Ciniawsky, Petra Wendler, F Ulrich Hartl, Andreas Bracher, Manajit Hayer-Hartl. Structure of green-type Rubisco activase from tobacco. Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, 2011; DOI: 10.1038/nsmb.2171

Cite This Page:

Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. "Shoe strings and egg openers: Scientists discover photosynthesis helper protein in red algae." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 November 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111108104620.htm>.
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. (2011, November 8). Shoe strings and egg openers: Scientists discover photosynthesis helper protein in red algae. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111108104620.htm
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. "Shoe strings and egg openers: Scientists discover photosynthesis helper protein in red algae." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111108104620.htm (accessed April 20, 2014).

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