New research published: Discovery of a previously unknown gene that indirectly promotes photosynthesis

New research published: Discovery of a previously unknown gene that indirectly promotes photosynthesis

Our new study on the newly discovered NirP1 protein just got publishen in Nature communications. Please find the press release from the University of Freiburg below:

Balance between primary nutrients

The amounts of carbon (CO2) and nitrogen available for plants, algae and cyanobacteria are not always the same. For photosynthesis, a physiologically relevant balance between these two primary nutrients is of huge importance. In the genetic data of cyanobacteria, Alexander Kraus, doctoral student with Wolfgang R. Hess at the University of Freiburg, has now discovered and characterised a gene that plays a key part in this context: the gene encodes a protein named NirP1. This is only produced if the cells identify a deficiency of carbon in relation to the available nitrogen.

The protein is itself too small to act as an enzyme like many other proteins. Working with Dr Philipp Spät and Prof. Dr Boris Maček from the Proteome Center at the University of Tübingen, the researchers were however able to discover that NirP1 can bond permanently with an enzyme that would normally convert nitrite into ammonium. NirP1 prevents this and thus ensures that nitrite accumulates in the cells; this is then followed by further massive metabolic changes, which were analysed in detail in collaboration with Prof. Dr Martin Hagemann 's team at the University of Rostock. Finally, the cyanobacteria begin to export nitrite to the environment, where the additional nitrite stimulates the growth of useful microorganisms, and so a microbiome that is beneficial to the photosynthesis of the cyanobacteria.

Ideas for further research

The results suggest ideas for ongoing research into the interactions between microorganisms and the role of this regulating gene which was previously little known, says Hess. “In addition, small protein regulators like NirP1 could in future be deployed in ‘green’ and ‘blue’ biotechnology for targeted control of the metabolism.”


Press release in English

Press release in German


Publication:  Protein NirP1 regulates nitrite reductase and nitrite excretion in cyanobacteria

                       Alexander Kraus, Philipp Spät, Stefan Timm, Amy Wilson, Rhena Schuhmann, Martin Hagemann, Boris Maček and Wolfgang R. Hess
                       Nature Communications volume 15, Article number: 1911 (2024) 

                       DOI: 10.1038/s41467-024-46253-4