Research team at Bielefeld University, led by Professor Dr. Olaf Kruse, has discovered a plant, which receives its energy not only via photosynthesis, but also it can extract it from other plants. The ground-breaking findings for the green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii were published online in the journal Nature.
The findings contradict current beliefs that only certain types of bacteria, worms and fungi could use vegetable cellulose as a source of carbon, while plants only engage in photosynthesis. Professor Kruse and his team of researchers conducted a number of experiments to demonstrate that this is not the case.
The scientists cultivated the alga species in an environment with low concentrations of carbon dioxide. They observed that when there is a shortage of available carbon dioxide, these single-cell plants derive their needed energy from neighbouring vegetable cellulose.
The Chlamydomonas reinhardtii alga releases enzymes that break down the cellulose into small sugar components, which are then transported and transformed into energy.
According to Kruse, such behavior has not been confirmed in a plant organism before. Essentially, what is observed is a ‘plant eating plant’ phenomenon. The team is determined to establish whether this is characteristic to other alga species.
This newly discovered ability of alga species holds a great potential for future bioenergy production. The cellulose enzymes produced by the alga could be used to break down cellulose in waste from field crops. The current process of biogas production uses cellulose enzymes from fungi, which require organic matter to grow. This will no longer be needed, if the enzymes are derived from alga. For their growth, the only requirement is water and light.