Cyanobacteria: Wonderful Microorganisms for Basic and Applied Research


Cyanobacteria, the only prokaryotes to perform photosynthesis, are fascinating organisms. They are regarded as the oldest phylum of bacteria that shaped the oxygenic atmosphere of our planet, and the progenitor of the plant‐chloroplast. Contemporary cyanobacteria colonise most water (fresh, brackish and marine) and soils of our planet, as free‐living or symbiotic organisms, and generate a large part of the oxygen and the biomass for the biosphere. Hence, a few edible cyanobacteria are being tested as a way to replenish O2, provide food and recycle wastes (CO2 and urea) during long‐term space missions. Furthermore, cyanobacteria also synthesise a vast array of biologically active metabolites with great potential for human health and industries. Thus, cyanobacteria constitute promising microbial factories for the production of chemicals from highly abundant natural resources: solar energy, CO2, minerals and waters (even polluted).

Key Concepts

  • Cyanobacteria are ancient organisms.
  • Cyanobacteria are environmentally important organisms.
  • Cyanobacteria produce a huge biomass for the food chain.
  • Cyanobacteria are widely diverse organisms.
  • Cyanobacteria have a versatile metabolism of great biotechnological interest.

Keywords: cyanobacteria; biodiversity; photosynthesis; respiration; nitrogen fixation; cell morphology; cell division; biofuels; bioplastics; therapeutics

Figure 1. Cyanobacteria colonise most ecosystems.
Figure 2. Cyanobacteria display various morphologies and colours, and they can synthesise a wealth of biotechnologically interesting products. The unicellular or filamentous cyanobacteria are displayed in various colours (blue, brown, green or pink) depending on the pigments they naturally produce.
Figure 3. Schematic representation of photosynthesis and carbon assimilation processes. N assimilation, nitrogen assimilation; C assimilation, carbon assimilation; ATPase, ATP synthase; BPGA, 1,3‐bisphosphoglycerate; CA, carbonic anhydrase; e, electron; Fdx, ferredoxin; FNR, ferredoxin‐NADP+ reductase; GAPDH, glyceraldehyde‐3‐phospahte dehydrogenase; G3P, glyceraldehyde‐3‐phosphate; H+, proton; 3PGA, 3‐phosphoglycerate; N, nitrogen; NADPH, reduced form of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate a reducing agent that provides electrons to a wealth of oxidation‐reduction reactions; PRK, phosphoribulokinase; PSII, photosystem II; PSI, photosystem I; Ru5P, ribulose‐5‐phosphate; RuBP, ribulose‐1,5‐biphosphate; S, sulfur.
Figure 4. Schematic representation of a heterocyst flanked by vegetative cells. This scheme shows the relations between the vegetative cells that perform the O2‐evolving photosynthesis and the heterocysts that carries out N2 fixation. CBC, Calvin–Benson cycle; CM, cytoplasmic membrane (orange line); HEP, heterocyst envelope polysaccharide layer (grey shading); HGL, heterocyst glycolipid layer (yellow line); OM, outer membrane; Nase, nitrogenase; PG, peptidoglycan layer; PS, photosynthesis.


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Further Reading

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Cassier‐Chauvat, Corinne, and Chauvat, Franck(Feb 2018) Cyanobacteria: Wonderful Microorganisms for Basic and Applied Research. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0027884]