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04/02/2024 14:34

How green algae and bacteria together contribute to climate protection

Antje Nieber Abteilung Hochschulkommunikation/Bereich Presse und Information
Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena

A research team at Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Germany has now found a bacterium that forms a team with a green alga. Both microorganisms support each other in their growth. Additionally, the bacterium helps the microalga to neutralize the toxin of another, harmful bacterium. The fundamental understanding of algal-bacterial interactions also plays an important role in climate protection, as it can help to understand and thus protect this ecologically important partnership. The results of the study will be published on 5. April 2024 in the scientific journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America); (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2401632121).

"We were able to show that the bacterium Mycetocola lacteus lives in a partnership with the green microalga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, from which both sides benefit. While the bacterium receives certain essential B vitamins and a sulphur-containing amino acid from the alga, the growth of the green alga is optimized. In addition, the bacterium Mycetocola lacteus and a related bacterial species serve as helper bacteria; they jointly protect the alga from harmful attacks by other bacteria by inactivating a toxin of these hostile bacteria through cleavage. In this way, the bacterial helpers ensure the survival of the algae," explains Maria Mittag, corresponding author of the study and Professor of General Botany at Friedrich Schiller University Jena in Germany.

Like bacteria, microalgae are microorganisms. They were found in fresh water as well as in oceans and soil. "Alongside land plants, algae and cyanobacteria produce a large proportion of oxygen and bind around half of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere through photosynthesis. They therefore make an important contribution to life on Earth," says Maria Mittag.

Only healthy algae can absorb and bind carbon dioxide well

This knowledge is also of great importance against the backdrop of global warming. "Only healthy algae can absorb and bind carbon dioxide well. It is therefore important to know which bacteria help the algae to remain photosynthetically active and at the same time neutralize the effect of harmful bacteria. In our study, we found that the bacteria and microalgae used also occur together in their natural environment," says Mittag.

In their natural habitats, microorganisms interact with each other and thus shape their coexistence. "In our research, we analyze the complex interplay of these small creatures in order to understand how they influence each other and which factors have a positive or negative effect on their growth. This is crucial in order to understand the mechanisms that contribute to the preservation of natural ecosystems and to develop effective protective measures," explains Christian Hertweck, Professor of Natural Product Chemistry at the University of Jena and Head of the Department of Biomolecular Chemistry at the Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology.

The study was carried out as part of a joint research project involving researchers from both the Cluster of Excellence "Balance of the Microverse" and the Collaborative Research Center "ChemBioSys" at the University of Jena. "By combining the biological perspective with analytical natural product chemistry and with our professional expertise in organic synthesis, we have demonstrated the mechanism by which the bacterial toxin is inactivated," explains Hans-Dieter Arndt, Professor of Organic Chemistry at the University of Jena.

Contact for scientific information:

Prof. Dr Maria Mittag
Matthias Schleiden Institute of Friedrich Schiller University Jena
Am Planetarium 1, 07743 Jena, Germany
Tel.: +49 3641 949201

Original publication:

David Carrasco Flores, Vivien Hotter, Trang Vuong, Yu Hou, Yuko Bando, Kirstin Scherlach, Bertille Burgunter-Delamare, Ron Hermenau, Anna J. Komor, Prasad Aiyar, Magdalena Rose, Severin Sasso, Hans-Dieter Arndt, Christian Hertweck, Maria Mittag: A mutualistic bacterium rescues a green alga from an antagonist. PNAS, Vol. 121, 5. April 2024, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2401632121

More information: - About the Cluster of Excellence “Balance of the Microverse” - About the Collaborative Research Center (CRC) ChemBioSys


Professor Maria Mittag with cultures of the green algae Chlamydomonas reinhardtii.
Professor Maria Mittag with cultures of the green algae Chlamydomonas reinhardtii.
Image: Jens Meyer
University of Jena

Wild-type strains of the green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii in liquid culture.
Wild-type strains of the green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii in liquid culture.
Image: Jens Meyer
University of Jena

Addendum from 04/03/2024

Please note: The DOI link will only be functional after publication of the article on 5 April 2024.

Criteria of this press release:
Journalists, Scientists and scholars
Biology, Chemistry, Oceanology / climate
transregional, national
Research results, Scientific Publications


Professor Maria Mittag with cultures of the green algae Chlamydomonas reinhardtii.

For download


Wild-type strains of the green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii in liquid culture.

For download



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