Center for Algal Biology and Applied Research

Research Group of Algal Growth and Development




PI: Prof. ZHANG Cheng-Cai   

Group Members:  

Assistant Prof.:  Ju-Yuan Zhang 

Research assistants: Gui-Min Lin, Tian-Cai Niu 

PhD students: Wei-Yue Xin, Min Huang 

Postgraduate students: Zi-Qian Wang; Jing Li; Xin-Yuan Wang   

Scientific Interests of the Group:  

The Research Group of Algal Growth and Development was created in 2015 by Prof. ZHANG Cheng-Cai. Using cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) as research models, we aim to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying the growth and development in microorganisms. While employing molecular genetics as the major approach, we encourage the use of multidisciplinary experimental methods (optic science and experimental physics, single-cell analysis tools, omics, genetics, biochemistry, and molecular biology etc.) to address scientific questions.   

Cyanobacteria are one of the oldest forms of life on the Earth, appeared about 2.5 billion years ago. As the first organisms able to perform oxygenic photosynthesis, they converted the Earth’s atmosphere from anaerobic to aerobic, thus paved the way for the emergence and evolution of animals, plants and human. Cyanobacteria are widespread in different environmental habitats, such as oceans, lakes, wetlands and even deserts. Today, the photosynthetic activity of cyanobacteria still contributes about 50% of the oxygen production on Earth.  

Cyanobacteria are interesting for the scientific community for several reasons. First, cyanobacteria could proliferate rapidly in water bodies under eutrophication conditions (rich in nutrients, principally in nitrogen and phosphate), combined with warm temperature, leading to the formation of blooms or efflorescence, a complicated environmental problem hard to resolve.  Second, cyanobacteria can convert solar energy and CO2 to biofuels or compounds that can be used in pharmaceutical, cosmetic and food industries, thus having a strong potential in biotechnology. However, they grow relatively slowly as compared to other microorganisms used in biotechnology. Whether for the treatment of cyanobacterial blooms, or the use in biotechnology, it involves the control of the cyanobacterial biomass. The research group studies the basic mechanism of cyanobacterial growth and development, hoping to provide a framework for better control of cyanobacterial blooms, as well as efficient production of cyanobacterial biomass for biotechnological use.   

Cyanobacteria are excellent models for addressing fundamental questions in biology. They exhibit an extraordinary diversity in cell sizes and morphology; some of them even develop different types of cells through differentiation, such as the formation of the nitrogen-fixing heterocysts (which is one of the oldest forms of cell differentiation). The molecular mechanisms that control the cell size, morphology and differentiation, as well as their relationship with metabolic regulation and cell cycle are still unclear. We will address these important fundamental questions using cyanobacteria as model organisms.  

Meanwhile, cyanobacteria can also produce various toxins and secondary metabolites useful in biotechnology, we also aim to investigate the biosynthetic and metabolic pathways of these compounds. 


Figure. Fluorescent images of filaments of the cyanobacterium Anabaena PCC 7120, photographed under a confocal microscope. Arrows indicate hetercoysts, other cells are photosynthetic vegetative cells.  



Fluorescent microscopes, microfluidic control systems, sonicator, PCR machines, spectrophotometer, equipment for purification and separation of DNA, RNA and proteins, omics facilities.   

Recent Publications (the last four years): 


1. Ziarelli, F., Peng, L., Zhang, C.-C., Viel, S. (2012) High Resolution Magic Angle Spinning NMR to investigate ligand-receptor binding events for mass-limited samples in liquids. J. of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Analysis 59:13-17. 

2. Wang F.-K., Latifi, A., Chen, W.-L., Zhang, C.-C. (2012) The inositol monophosphatase All2917 (IMPA1) is involved in osmotic adaptation in Anabaena sp. PCC7120. Env. Microbiol Rep. 4:622-632.   


3. Yang Y, Huang XZ, Wang L, Risoul V, Zhang C.-C., Chen W-L. (2013) Phenotypic variation caused by variation in the relative copy number of pDU1-based plasmids expressing the GAF domain of Pkn41 or Pkn42 in Anabaena sp. PCC 7120. Res Microbiol. 164:127-135. 

4. Tan H, Wan S, Liu P-Q, Wang L, Zhang C-C, Chen W-L (2013) Alr5068, a low-molecular-weight protein tyrosine phosphatase is involved in formation of the heterocyst polysaccharide layer in the cyanobacterium Anabaena sp. PCC 7120. Res. Microbiol. 164:875-885. 

5. Zhang L-C., Risoul, V., Latifi, A., Chritie JM, Zhang C-C. (2013) Exploring the size limit of protein diffusion through the periplasm in the cyanobacterium Anabaena sp. PCC 7120 using the 13 kDa iLOV fluorescent protein. Res. Microbiol. 164:710-717. 

6. Zhang C-C. & Zhou C-Z. (2013) ATPase as a switch in PII signal transduction. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 110:12863-12864. 

7. Zhang S-R, Lin G-M, Chen W-L, Wang L, Zhang C-C (2013) ppGpp metabolism is involved in heterocyst development in the cyanobacterium Anabaena sp. PCC 7120. J. Bacteriol. 195:4536-4544. 

8. Liu X, Wang Y, Laurini E, Posocco P, Chen H, Ziarelli F, Janicki A, Qu F, Fermeglia M, Pricl S, Zhang C-C, Peng L. (2013) Structural requirements of molecular probes to mimic the signalling function of 2-oxoglutaric acid, a key Krebs cycle intermediate. Org Lett. 15:4662-4665.   


9. Chen, H-L., Bernard, C.S., Hubert P., My, L., Zhang, C-C. (2014) Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer Based on Interaction of PII and PipX Proteins Provides a Robust and Specific Biosensor for 2-Oxoglutarate, a Central Metabolite and a Signaling Molecule. FEBS J. 281:1241-1255. 

10. Zhang, J-Y; Deng, X-M; Li, F-P; Wang, L; Huang, Q-Y; Zhang, C-C; Chen, W-L. (2014) RNase E, via a cyanobacterial-specific nonapeptide in the non-catalytic domain, forms a complex with polynucleotide phosphorylase in cyanobacteria. RNA. 20:568-579. 

11. Deschoenmaeker, F., Facchini, R., Leroy, B., Badri, H., Zhang, C.-C., and Wattiez, R. (2014) Proteomic and cellular views of Arthrospira sp. PCC 8005 adaptation to nitrate depletion. Microbiol. 160 :1224-1236. 

12. Fan Y., Lemeille, S., Talla, E., Janicki, A., Denis, Y., Zhang, C.-C. & Amel Latifi (2014). Unraveling the crosstalk between iron starvation and oxidative stress responses highlights the key role of PerR (alr0957) in peroxide signaling in the cyanobacterium Nostoc PCC 7120. Env Mic Rep. 6:458-475 

13. Wang, Y., Liu, X., Laurini, E., Posocco, P., Ziarelli, F., Fermeglia, M., Qu, F., Pricl, S., Zhang, C.-C. & Peng L. (2014) Mimicking 2-oxoglutaric acid signalling function using molecular probes: insights from structural and functional investigations. Org. Biomol. Chem. 12:4723-4729. 

14. Wang, Y., Assaf,Z., Liu, X., Ziarelli, F., Latifi, A., Lamrabet, O., Quéléver, G., Qu, F., Zhang, C.-C., Peng L. (2014) 2-OG column. A click chemistry constructed affinity system for 2-oxoglutaric acid receptors and binding proteins. Org. Biomol. Chem. 12:6470-6475.   


15. Fan Y, Lemeille, S., González, A., Risoul, V., Denis, Y., Richaud, P., Lamrabet, O., Fillat, M., Zhang, C.-C., Latifi A. (2015) The Pkn22 Ser/Thr kinase in Nostoc PCC 7120: role of FurA and NtcA regulators and transcript profiling under nitrogen starvation and oxidative stress. BMC Genomics. 16:557. 

16. Hu, S., Wang, J., Wang, L., Zhang, C.-C., Chen, W.-L. (2015) Dynamics and cell-type specificity of the DNA double-strand break repair protein RecN in the developmental cyanobacterium Anabaena sp. strain PCC 7120. PLoS One. 10(10):e0139362 

17. Hu, H-X., Jiang, Y-L., Zhao, M-X., Cai K., Liu, S., Wen, B., Lv, P., Zhang, Y., Peng, J., Yu, H.-M., Ren, Y.-M., Zhang, Z., Wu, Q., Oliveberg, M., Zhang, C.-C*., Chen, Y*., Zhou, C.Z.* (2015) Structural insights into HetR?PatS interaction involved in cyanobacterial pattern formation. Sci. Rep. 5:16470.