Detailing the optimality of photosynthesis in cyanobacteria through systems biology analysis

Juan Nogales, Steinn Gudmundsson, Eric M. Knight, Bernhard O. Palsson, Ines Thiele*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

205 Citations (Scopus)


Photosynthesis has recently gained considerable attention for its potential role in the development of renewable energy sources. Optimizing photosynthetic organisms for biomass or biofuel production will therefore require a systems understanding of photosynthetic processes.We reconstructed a high-quality genome-scale metabolic network for Synechocystis sp. PCC6803 that describes key photosynthetic processes in mechanistic detail. We performed an exhaustive in silico analysis of the reconstructed photosynthetic process under different light and inorganic carbon (Ci) conditions as well as under genetic perturbations. Our key results include the following. (i) We identified two main states of the photosynthetic apparatus: a Ci-limited state and a light-limited state. (ii) We discovered nine alternative electron flow pathways that assist the photosynthetic linear electron flow in optimizing the photosynthesis performance. (iii) A high degree of cooperativity between alternative pathways was found to be critical for optimal autotrophic metabolism. Although pathways with high photosynthetic yield exist for optimizing growth under suboptimal light conditions, pathways with low photosynthetic yield guarantee optimal growth under excessive light or Ci limitation. (iv) Photorespiration was found to be essential for the optimal photosynthetic process, clarifying its role in high-light acclimation. Finally, (v) an extremely high photosynthetic robustness drives the optimal autotrophic metabolism at the expense of metabolic versatility and robustness. The results and modeling approach presented here may promote a better understanding of the photosynthetic process. They can also guide bioengineering projects toward optimal biofuel production in photosynthetic organisms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2678-2683
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 14 Feb 2012

Other keywords

  • Biosustainability
  • Constraint-based modeling
  • Metabolic engineering
  • Metabolic robustness
  • Photobioenergetic


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