Centre for Synthetic Biology and the Bioeconomy

Past Seminars

From green bacteria to green biotech - mechanics and clocking of gene expression in cyanobacteria

Dr Yulia Yuzenkova, Centre for Bacterial Cell Biology, Institute for Cell & Molecular Biosciences, Newcastle University

Date/Time: 19th of March 2019, 13:00-14:00

Venue: Urban Science Building, room 3.032


Cyanobacteria are one of nature’s formative forces. Ancient cyanobacteria created modern oxygen-rich atmosphere and gave rise to plants’ chloroplasts. Presently cyanobacteria capture CO2 on a global scale generating 25% of atmospheric oxygen. Application of cyanobacteria for carbon-neutral production of materials, e.g. pigments and high-value chemicals, along with agricultural feedstock and human food supplements, is a growing sector of industry.

Majority of industrial applications are based on synthetic biology and require tweaking the expression of native and orthologous genes. Development of cyanobacterial synthetic parts and tools is still lagging behind “classic” producers, and we still know little about mechanisms of gene expression in cyanobacteria. 

The focus of this talk is a first stage of gene expression, transcription – process of copying genetic information into an RNA form. The RNA copy is never correct, and therefore requires proofreading. Uniquely, cyanobacteria lack otherwise universal proofreading factors. How cyanobacteria cope?  We found that cyanobacterial transcription enzyme (RNA polymerase) efficiently corrects its own mistakes. However, there is a trade-off – reduced ability of RNA polymerase to pause and to stop at the end of the gene. This perhaps evolutionary primitive set-up has to be taken into account for parts and pathways design for synthetic biology.

Cyanobacteria are the simplest organisms whose gene expression is controlled by a circadian clock. Clock allows photosynthetic cyanobacteria to synchronise cell cycle and metabolism with daily light cycle. In Portabolomics project we started to harness this clocking mechanism to time biological processes in non-photosynthetic organisms.



Yulia graduated from Moscow State University, did her PhD and postdoctoral research in between Institute of Molecular Genetics in Moscow, Russia and Rutgers University in New Jersey, USA. Later she moved to UK and in 2013 got Royal Society University Research Fellowship to start her own research group.

Her research interests include: gene expression regulation in prokaryotes and its applications in synthetic biology, transcription in cyanobacteria and plant plastids, bacteriophage regulators of host transcription, non-canonical RNA capping in bacteria and mitochondria.-protein complexes.