Photosynthesis Research

, Volume 125, Issue 3, pp 383–393 | Cite as

Implementation of photobiological H2 production: the O2 sensitivity of hydrogenases

  • Maria L. Ghirardi


The search for the ultimate carbon-free fuel has intensified in recent years, with a major focus on photoproduction of H2. Biological sources of H2 include oxygenic photosynthetic green algae and cyanobacteria, both of which contain hydrogenase enzymes. Although algal and cyanobacterial hydrogenases perform the same enzymatic reaction through metallo-clusters, their hydrogenases have evolved separately, are expressed differently (transcription of algal hydrogenases is anaerobically induced, while bacterial hydrogenases are constitutively expressed), and display different sensitivity to O2 inactivation. Among various physiological factors, the sensitivity of hydrogenases to O2 has been one of the major factors preventing implementation of biological systems for commercial production of renewable H2. This review addresses recent strategies aimed at engineering increased O2 tolerance into hydrogenases (as of now mainly unsuccessful), as well as towards the development of methods to bypass the O2 sensitivity of hydrogenases (successful but still yielding low solar conversion efficiencies). The author concludes with a description of current approaches from various laboratories to incorporate multiple genetic traits into either algae or cyanobacteria to jointly address limiting factors other than the hydrogenase O2 sensitivity and achieve more sustained H2 photoproduction activity.


Hydrogenases Photosynthetic microbes O2 sensitivity 



The author would like to acknowledge support from the U.S. DOE’s Office of Science BER and BES, and from the EERE’s Fuel Cell Technologies Office. The U.S. Government retains and the publisher, by accepting the article for publication, acknowledges that the U.S. Government retains a nonexclusive, paid up, irrevocable, worldwide license to publish or reproduce the published form of this work, or allow others to do so, for U.S. Government purposes.

Conflict of interest

The author declares that she has no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht (outside the USA) 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Renewable Energy LaboratoryGoldenUSA

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