Research

Life on our planet depends on phototrophic metabolism, and the biosphere is strictly dependent on oxygenic photosynthesis, which generates the oxygen we breathe and removes CO2from the atmosphere.

The scientific aims of the IBVF are based on the study of various aspects of phototrophic biology, and the research is focused on photosynthetic organisms that are model systems, such as cyanobacteria, algae and plants. In the 2010-2013 Strategic Plan of the IBVF, the research to be carried out is divided into two major areas: Gene expression and cellular regulation and Redox Biology, Metabolism and Signalling.

Gene Expression and Cellular Regulation

The research groups in the research area of Gene expression and cellular regulation manage the study of the central processes in the biology of photosynthetic organisms, mainly cyanobacteria, using biotechnology approaches to obtain products of economic interest. Some processes are also studied in eukaryotic algae and chloroplasts. The current projects mainly investigate the adaptation to environmental cues (changes in the availability of macronutrients, C and N, and the presence of contaminants), with an emphasis on the processes of the regulation of gene expression and cellular differentiation, central metabolism, the translation machinery, with an emphasis on the specific features of tRNA synthetases, and energy transduction processes mediated by pyrophosphatases.

Concerning the biotechnology-oriented studies, cyanobacteria and algae are being considered for the production of carotenoid pigments, saturated fatty acids, polysaccharides and biofuels. In addition to the classical procedures for biochemical and genetic analyses, these groups are implementing the use of massive approaches and routinely make use of the approximately 40 complete genomic sequences of cyanobacteria already available.

Redox Biology, Metabolism and Signalling

The research area of Redox Biology, Metabolism and Signalling is formed by groups addressing structural-functional relationships in redox proteins, such as metallo-proteins and flavoproteins. Thus, studies are currently in progress on the role of respiratory cytochrome c in programmed cell death in different types of organisms and the function of other proteins involved in electron transport, such as plastocyanin and cytochrome c6, electron donors forphotosystem I, or cytochromes b559 and c550, which are associated with photosystem II and are possibly involved in protection mechanisms in this photosystem during photosynthesis (in this case, using cyanobacteria as a model system).

Within the context of photosynthesis, several groups are using plants to study the role of thiol-based redox enzymes in the mechanism of plant adaptation to environmental stimuli causing oxidative stress. In addition, the metabolic networks that interact with each compartmentalised cysteine pool and their effect in plant responses are also being explored using a systems biology approach. One group is characterising the role of a plant-specific Ca2+-regulated decoding systemthat isinvolved in disease and susceptibility signalling in response to biotic stress.

Other groups focus on starch metabolism in plants through the study of the different elements involved in starch synthesis or byanalysing of the role of starch and sucrose in developmental processes, such as gravitropism and plagiotropism. These groups also seekto understand the complex regulatory signals that promote the floral transition at the molecular level. Additionally, Arabidopsis thaliana is used as a model system to study the involvement of telomeric and subtelomeric chromatin in the biology of telomeres. A more specific TOR kinase-dependent signalling pathway is being investigated to understand the control of cell growth in photosynthetic organisms using the unicellular green alga, Chlamydomonas, as a model system.