The CoE was interested in the regulation of photosynthetic reactions as well as in how these reactions are integrated into the production of primary and secondary metabolites and biohydrogen.
The CoE had two major areas of research focus: the usefulness of cyanobacteria (or blue-green algae) for biotechnology and environmental ecology, and the use of cyanobacteria and plants such as Arabidopsis thaliana as model organisms for photosynthesis research.
The CoE’s main research aim was to provide a systems biology overview of photosynthetic organisms and how they react to the environment, extending from genome function through to the protein and metabolic level. Cyanobacterial genomes are relatively small, and therefore the task of detailed metabolic analysis is much simpler than in the case of plants.
Cyanobacteria can also have important applications: a key area of research was to study their diversity, the molecular mechanisms of toxin and bioactive compound production as well as the ecology of cyanobacteria in Finnish lakes and in the Baltic Sea.
Finnish and Chinese scientists have completed work to sequence the genome of the toxic Anabaena strain 90, which in Finland frequently forms mass occurrences. One of the CoE’s main interests was to analyse the genomes of Anabaena and the Baltic cyanobacteria Nodularia.
With respect to cyanobacteria, the programme’s biotechnological objective was to identify commercially viable compounds and molecules that can be used as medicinal substances.
Furthermore, the programme’s aim was to harness cyanobacteria for efficient biohydrogen production. Biohydrogen has important application as an energy source, on both a small and larger scale.
Cyanobacteria have a natural photosynthetic capacity to produce hydrogen out of water and sunlight. Hydrogen is infinite clean energy, because it is obtained from the conversion of solar energy.
The foundation for these biotechnology projects was provided by the extensive culture collection of cyanobacteria isolated from the natural environment in Finland.
The CoE was headed by Academy Professor Eva-Mari Aro from the University of Turku Department of Biology. Her main area of expertise is plant and cyanobacterial photosynthesis and the tolerance of environmental stressors.
The CoE’s research teams were from the University of Turku Department of Biology and the University of Helsinki Department of Applied Chemistry and Microbiology. The CoE had a staff of three professors and some 50 researchers, doctoral students and technical personnel.