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Researchers uncover mechanism of enzyme in blue-green algae that could revolutionize agriculture: 'What we found was completely unexpected'

"Surprisingly, the … enzyme has been embedded in nature's blueprint all along, waiting to be discovered."

"Surprisingly, the ... enzyme has been embedded in nature's blueprint all along, waiting to be discovered."

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Scientists have discovered an enzyme function that could help engineer more climate-resilient crops, SciTechDaily reported.

The researchers from The Australian National University and the University of Newcastle were studying cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, when they discovered a previously unknown function of an enzyme called carboxysomal carbonic anhydrase (CsoSCA). The enzyme, it turns out, allows the algae to suck more carbon dioxide out of the air than previously thought possible.

Cyanobacteria can be an environmental problem when, for example, rising temperatures cause algae blooms that can overwhelm a lake. They can also carry toxins that are dangerous to humans and wildlife.

However, cyanobacteria also have environmental benefits — the researchers behind the discovery referred to them as "tiny carbon superheroes" and said they capture around 12% of the world's carbon dioxide each year. Now, the scientists understand how they are doing that.

"Until now, scientists were unsure how the CsoSCA enzyme is controlled. Our study focused on unraveling this mystery, particularly in a major group of cyanobacteria found across the globe. What we found was completely unexpected," Ben Long, the study's lead author, said

"The CsoSCA enzyme dances to the tune of another molecule called RuBP, which activates it like a switch. Think of photosynthesis like making a sandwich. Carbon dioxide from the air is the filling, but a photosynthetic cell needs to provide the bread. That's RuBP. 

"... Surprisingly, the CsoSCA enzyme has been embedded in nature's blueprint all along, waiting to be discovered."

The researchers published their findings in the journal Science Advances.

The most exciting aspect of this new research is that the CsoSCA enzyme could be used to bioengineer crops that are easier to grow and require less nitrogen fertilizer (which comes with a host of environmental drawbacks) and irrigation (whose systems use large amounts of water) — all while capturing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, cooling our planet in the process.

In addition, growing crops that can withstand the impacts of extreme weather while also being able to suck up carbon will help secure food supplies for communities.

Other recent attempts at engineering more climate-resilient crops include using gene-altering technology to extend the shelf lives of various foods and employing a little-known bacteria to increase the rate of photosynthesis in plants.

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