Photosynthesis Research

, Volume 16, Issue 1–2, pp 141–154

Uptake and utilization of inorganic carbon by cyanobacteria

  • John Pierce
  • Tatsuo Omata
Carbon Fixation; Rubisco Minireview


In the cyanobacteria, mechanisms exist that allow photosynthetic CO2 reduction to proceed efficiently even at very low levels of inorganic carbon. These inducible, active transport mechanisms enable the cyanobacteria to accumulate large internal concentrations of inorganic carbon that may be up to 1000-fold higher than the external concentration. As a result, the external concentration of inorganic carbon required to saturate cyanobacterial photosynthesis in vivo is orders of magnitude lower than that required to saturate the principal enzyme (ribulose bisphosphate carboxylase) involved in the fixation reactions. Since CO2 is the substrate for carbon fixation, the cyanobacteria somehow perform the neat trick of concentrating this small, membrane permeable molecule at the site of CO2 fixation. In this review, we will describe the biochemical and physiological experiments that have outlined the phenomenon of inorganic carbon accumulation, relate more recent genetic and molecular biological observations that attempt to define the constituents involved in this process, and discuss a speculative theory that suggests a unified view of inorganic carbon utilization by the cyanobacteria.

Key words

carbonic anhydrase carboxysomes CO2 transport cyanobacteria inorganic carbon utilization ribulose bisphosphate carboxylase 



Inorganic carbon


Cells grown under high CO2


Cells grown under low CO2




Wild type


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Pierce
    • 1
  • Tatsuo Omata
    • 2
  1. 1.Central Research and Development DepartmentE.I. Du Pont de Nemours and Company, Experimental StationWilmingtonUSA
  2. 2.Solar Energy Research GroupThe Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN)Wako-shi, SaitamaJapan

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