Tapping the Unused Potential of Photosynthesis with a Heterologous Electron Sink

Increasing the efficiency of the conversion of light energy to products by photosynthesis represents a grand challenge in biotechnology. Photosynthesis is limited by the carbon-fixing enzyme Rubisco resulting in much of the absorbed energy being wasted as heat or fluorescence or lost as excess reductant <i>via</i> alternative electron dissipation pathways. To harness this wasted reductant, we engineered the model cyanobacterium <i>Synechococcus</i> PCC 7002 to express the mammalian cytochrome P450 CYP1A1 to serve as an artificial electron sink for excess electrons derived from light-catalyzed water-splitting. This improved photosynthetic efficiency by increasing the maximum rate of photosynthetic electron flow by 31.3%. A simple fluorescent assay for CYP1A1 activity demonstrated that the P450 was functional in the absence of its native reductase, that activity was light-dependent and scaled with irradiance. We show for the first time in live cells that photosynthetic reductant can be redirected to power a heterologous cytochrome P450. Furthermore, <i>Synechococcus</i> PCC 7002 expressing CYP1A1 degraded the herbicide atrazine, which is a widespread environmental pollutant.