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 via alternative electron dissipation pathways. To harness this wasted reductant, we engineered the model cyanobacterium Synechococcus 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, Synechococcus PCC 7002 expressing CYP1A1 degraded the herbicide atrazine, which is a widespread environmental pollutant.