High-throughput biosensor discriminates between different algal H2-photoproducing strains


  • Conflicts of interest: M.W. works for GeneBiologics, LLC, which in part carried out this research.


A number of species of microalgae and cyanobacteria photosynthetically produce H2 gas by coupling water oxidation with the reduction of protons to molecular hydrogen, generating renewable energy from sunlight and water. Photosynthetic H2 production, however, is transitory, and there is considerable interest in increasing and extending it for commercial applications. Here we report a Petri-plate version of our previous, microplate-based assay that detects photosynthetic H2 production by algae. The assay consists of an agar overlay of H2-sensing Rhodobacter capsulatus bacteria carrying a green fluorescent protein that responds to H2 produced by single algal colonies in the bottom agar layer. The assay distinguishes between algal strains that photoproduce H2 at different levels under high light intensities, and it does so in a simple, inexpensive, and high-throughput manner. The assay will be useful for screening both natural populations and mutant libraries for strains having increased H2 production, and useful for identifying various genetic factors that physiologically or genetically alter algal hydrogen production. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2014;111: 1332–1340. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.