Can cyanobacteria be engineered to grow faster?

In scientific circles, cyanobacteria are emerging as organisms that could potentially revolutionize biofuel and chemical production. This is due to cyanobacteria’s ability to generate biomass by using only carbon dioxide and sunlight through the process of photosynthesis. However, cyanobacterial strains traditionally exhibit a slower growth rate compared to commonly used nonphotosynthetic microbes, leading to lower levels of productivity. What needs to be done to engineer these organisms to grow faster? That was the question posed by a group of scientists led by Himadri B. Pakrasi, the Myron and Sonya Glassberg/Albert and Blanche Greensfelder Distinguished University Professor and Director of InCEES. Their findings, which  appeared in the Nov. 8 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), state that small changes in three genes are all that is needed to significantly enhance the growth rate of cyanobacteria. A peer commentary about this pioneering discovery was also published in PNAS on Nov. 21.