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Solution to global warming! Research by National Sun Yat-sen University helps stop global warming!

Global warming has been one of the most critical global crises in recent decades. Scientists have warned that winters may disappear and have also identified carbon emissions reduction as the current most urgent task. The research team led by Hsin-yang Chang (an assistant professor at the Department of Marine Biotechnology and Resources, National Sun Yat-sen University) collaborated with the research team led by Chwan-deng Hsiao (a research fellow at the Institute of Molecular Biology, Academia Sinica). These scholars became the first worldwide to solve the mystery of how tail-anchored (TA) membrane protein is transported to the outer chloroplast membrane, a mechanism that results in high efficiency of green algae photosynthesis. Because green algae capture 20 times more atmospheric carbon dioxide than trees can, this discovery can help alleviate and stop global warming. The research has been published in The Plant Journal, a world-leading authority in plant science.

This joint marine biotechnology and structural biology effort commenced in 2015 and lasted for three years. Overcoming numerous difficulties, the team successfully identified the three-dimensional structure of ArsA1, the carrier that escorts TA membrane protein to specific algal organelles. This discovery enabled the research team to determine the molecular mechanism through which ArsA1 recognizes, protects, and transports TA membrane protein. “This is a new recognition and transportation system that works like a mailman delivering letters,” Chang explained, “and in this analogy, the carrier ArsA1 is a mailman that can not only read the address and postal code but also send the package, which is the TA membrane protein, as registered mail to ensure that it arrives safely.”

According to the research team, “green algae rely on the unique structural composition and orientation of the mechanism to prevent mistakes.” That is, when chloroplast TA membrane protein is translated and synthesized, ArsA1 has a specific structure enabling it to recognize the protein and escort it to a chloroplast. This specific structure can be likened to “interlocking safety hook”, and enables ArsA1 to orientationally recognize a chloroplast TA membrane protein without being confused by TA membrane protein destined for other organelles. Chang mentioned that similar three-dimensional carrier structures have only been found in yeasts, which are relatively primitive. The research team was the first in the world to discover such a mechanism in algae, which are more complex, bringing new hope to the struggle against global warming.

Presently, it takes 1.5−2 kg of green algae to consume 1 kg of carbon dioxide. The research team stresses that by understanding the molecular transportation mechanism of chloroplast TA membrane protein, the efficiency of algal photosynthesis can be enhanced, thereby increasing the contribution of algae to carbon fixation. In this manner, large amounts of carbon dioxide can be removed from the atmosphere, alleviating the greenhouse effect and global warming.

Other members of the research team include Chi-Chih Chen, a PhD student of the Doctoral Degree Program in Marine Biology, National Sun Yat-sen University, and Tai-wen Lin, a PhD student of the Institute of Molecular Biology, Academia Sinica.

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