Cyanobacteria represent one of the most ecophysiologically diverse phyla, inhabiting a range of environments and exhibiting an array of biogeochemical specific processes. Cyanobacteria are unique in that they are the only prokaryotes that are able to use sunlight as energy, water as an electron donor, and air as a carbon source. Furthermore, some strains are even capable of fixing nitrogen, making them extremely important for converting atmospheric nitrogen to ammonia, which can be used by organisms. In addition, cyanobacteria also produce a number of tetrapyrrolic dye molecules such as heme, chlorophyll, and phycocyanobilin (PCB).
BODIPY is an organic dye that is a dipyrrin-containing derivative. This tetrapyrrolic dye and its derivatives are used in many applications; either for dye-sensitized solar cell (DSSC) applications or towards the design of fluorescent molecules as organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs). However, the synthesis of these organic dyes can be time consuming and expensive. Molecules such as heme, chlorophyll, and PCB are very similar to dyes such as BODIPY. As such, the tetrapyrrolic dyes produced by cyanobacteria could be extremely useful for photovoltaic applications as these organisms use enzymes and molecules found in their environment rather than expensive catalysts. The ability to genetically direct the bacterial synthetic machinery would be significantly beneficial to carbon dioxide sequestration, nitrogen fixation, as well as the production of low-cost dyes. The biosynthesis of heme and its subsequent product PCB represent an attractive pathway to develop novel dyes. Therefore, by combining genomics, bioinformatics, as well as synthetic biology, the Ryerson team aims to genetically engineer cyanobacteria to efficiently produce novel dyes.
Thus far, the Ryerson iGEM team has been working on developing its project and finding the appropriate resources. By the end of the summer, iGEM Ryerson aims to have created novel biobricks that can be added to the registry while also obtaining the target molecule in our model organism.