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  1. Abstract

    Photosynthetic organisms possess a variety of mechanisms to achieve balance between absorbed light (source) and the capacity to metabolically utilize or dissipate this energy (sink). While regulatory processes that detect changes in metabolic status/balance are relatively well studied in plants, analogous pathways remain poorly characterized in photosynthetic microbes. Here, we explored systemic changes that result from alterations in carbon availability in the model cyanobacterium Synechococcus elongatus PCC 7942 by taking advantage of an engineered strain where influx/efflux of a central carbon metabolite, sucrose, can be regulated experimentally. We observed that induction of a high-flux sucrose export pathway leads to depletion of internal carbon storage pools (glycogen) and concurrent increases in estimates of photosynthetic activity. Further, a proteome-wide analysis and fluorescence reporter-based analysis revealed that upregulated factors following the activation of the metabolic sink are concentrated on ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase-oxygenase (Rubisco) and auxiliary modules involved in Rubisco maturation. Carboxysome number and Rubisco activity also increased following engagement of sucrose secretion. Conversely, reversing the flux of sucrose by feeding exogenous sucrose through the heterologous transporter resulted in increased glycogen pools, decreased Rubisco abundance, and carboxysome reorganization. Our data suggest that Rubisco activity and organization are key variables connected to regulatory pathways involved in metabolic balancing in cyanobacteria.

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  2. Biofuels and other biologically manufactured sustainable goods are growing in popularity and demand. Carbohydrate feedstocks required for industrial fermentation processes have traditionally been supplied by plant biomass, but the large quantities required to produce replacement commodity products may prevent the long-term feasibility of this approach without alternative strategies to produce sugar feedstocks. Cyanobacteria are under consideration as potential candidates for sustainable production of carbohydrate feedstocks, with potentially lower land and water requirements relative to plants. Several cyanobacterial strains have been genetically engineered to export significant quantities of sugars, especially sucrose. Sucrose is not only naturally synthesized and accumulated by cyanobacteria as a compatible solute to tolerate high salt environments, but also an easily fermentable disaccharide used by many heterotrophic bacteria as a carbon source. In this review, we provide a comprehensive summary of the current knowledge of the endogenous cyanobacterial sucrose synthesis and degradation pathways. We also summarize genetic modifications that have been found to increase sucrose production and secretion. Finally, we consider the current state of synthetic microbial consortia that rely on sugar-secreting cyanobacterial strains, which are co-cultivated alongside heterotrophic microbes able to directly convert the sugars into higher-value compounds (e.g., polyhydroxybutyrates, 3-hydroxypropionic acid, or dyes) in a single-pot reaction. We summarize recent advances reported in such cyanobacteria/heterotroph co-cultivation strategies and provide a perspective on future developments that are likely required to realize their bioindustrial potential. 
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