The Kai-Protein Clock—Keeping Track of Cyanobacteria’s Daily Life

  • Joost Snijder
  • Ilka Maria AxmannEmail author
Part of the Subcellular Biochemistry book series (SCBI, volume 93)


Life has adapted to Earth’s day-night cycle with the evolution of endogenous biological clocks. Whereas these circadian rhythms typically involve extensive transcription-translation feedback in higher organisms, cyanobacteria have a circadian clock, which functions primarily as a protein-based post-translational oscillator. Known as the Kai system, it consists of three proteins KaiA, KaiB, and KaiC. In this chapter, we provide a detailed structural overview of the Kai components and how they interact to produce circadian rhythms of global gene expression in cyanobacterial cells. We discuss how the circadian oscillation is coupled to gene expression, intertwined with transcription-translation feedback mechanisms, and entrained by input from the environment. We discuss the use of mathematical models and summarize insights into the cyanobacterial circadian clock from theoretical studies. The molecular details of the Kai system are well documented for the model cyanobacterium Synechococcus elongatus, but many less understood varieties of the Kai system exist across the highly diverse phylum of Cyanobacteria. Several species contain multiple kai-gene copies, while others like marine Prochlorococcus strains have a reduced kaiBC-only system, lacking kaiA. We highlight recent findings on the genomic distribution of kai genes in Bacteria and Archaea and finally discuss hypotheses on the evolution of the Kai system.


Circadian clock Biochemical oscillator KaiC KaiB KaiA PTO TTFL Cyanobacteria Synechococcus elongatus Prochlorococcus 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Snijder BioscienceUtrechtThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Biomolecular Mass Spectrometry and Proteomics, Bijvoet Center for Biomolecular Research, Utrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Synthetic Microbiology, Biology DepartmentHeinrich Heine University DüsseldorfDüsseldorfGermany

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