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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

A novel screening protocol for the isolation of hydrogen producing Chlamydomonas reinhardtii strains

Thilo Rühle1, Anja Hemschemeier1, Anastasios Melis2 and Thomas Happe1*

Author Affiliations

1 Fakultät für Biologie und Biotechnologie, Lehrstuhl für Biochemie der Pflanzen, AG Photobiotechnologie, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, 44780 Bochum, Germany

2 Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, University of California, Berkeley, California, 94720-3102, USA

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BMC Plant Biology 2008, 8:107  doi:10.1186/1471-2229-8-107

Published: 17 October 2008



Sealed Chlamydomonas reinhardtii cultures evolve significant amounts of hydrogen gas under conditions of sulfur depletion. However, the eukaryotic green alga goes through drastic metabolic changes during this nutritional stress resulting in cell growth inhibition and eventually cell death. This study aimed at isolating C. reinhardtii transformants which produce hydrogen under normal growth conditions to allow a continuous hydrogen metabolism without the stressful impact of nutrient deprivation.


To achieve a steady photobiological hydrogen production, a screening protocol was designed to identify C. reinhardtii DNA insertional mutagenesis transformants with an attenuated photosynthesis to respiration capacity ratio (P/R ratio). The screening protocol entails a new and fast method for mutant strain selection altered in their oxygen production/consumption balance. Out of 9000 transformants, four strains with P/R ratios varying from virtually zero to three were isolated. Strain apr1 was found to have a slightly higher respiration rate and a significantly lower photosynthesis rate than the wild type. Sealed cultures of apr1 became anaerobic in normal growth medium (TAP) under moderate light conditions and induced [FeFe]-hydrogenase activity, yet without significant hydrogen gas evolution. However, Calvin-Benson cycle inactivation of anaerobically adapted apr1 cells in the light led to a 2-3-fold higher in vivo hydrogen production than previously reported for the sulfur-deprived C. reinhardtii wild type.


Attenuated P/R capacity ratio in microalgal mutants constitutes a platform for achieving steady state photobiological hydrogen production. Using this platform, algal hydrogen metabolism can be analyzed without applying nutritional stress. Furthermore, these strains promise to be useful for biotechnological hydrogen generation, since high in vivo hydrogen production rates are achievable under normal growth conditions, when the photosynthesis to respiration capacity ratio is lowered in parallel to down regulated assimilative pathways.