A research group led by Associate Professor Sosuke Imamura and Professor Hiroshi Tanaka of Tokyo Institute of Technology discovered factors that determine the ON / OFF of oil production in microalgae. We found that oil synthesis is activated by artificially inhibiting TOR, a protein that regulates cell growth.
Since the discovery of fine algae that produce oil, research has been actively conducted to produce algae with high oil productivity by breeding.However, the basic mechanism of oil production has not been elucidated so much, which is an obstacle to research.
It is known that microalgae begin to make oil when they are depleted of nutrients such as nitrogen.Focusing on this point, Associate Professor Imamura and his colleagues wondered if the nutrient-sensing proteins are also involved in oil production.If this hypothesis is correct, it should be possible to produce oil at any time by artificially controlling the activity of the protein.
TOR is well known as a protein that plays an important role in sensing nutrients including nitrogen in humans and yeasts.It is thought that TOR has a similar function in algae and is also involved in oil synthesis.Therefore, by adding a drug called lavamycin to the culture medium, the algae TOR was inactivated, creating a state in which nutrients could not be sensed.Then, I was able to observe the algae accumulating oil even when they were rich in nutrients.
From these results, it can be considered that TOR acts as a switch that switches between the state in which cells proliferate and the state in which oil is stored.While oil synthesis is possible by simply adding the drug to the culture medium, there is still the problem of inhibiting the growth of algae.In future research, we will continue to improve varieties with the aim of achieving both cell proliferation and oil production.Research is progressing step by step toward the day when the aquarium containing algae turns into an oil field.
Source:[Tokyo Institute of Technology] Discovered a switch protein that makes microalgae make oil