Metabollic systems biology, core metabolism in algae
Evolutionary Molding of Metabolism
Igor Libourel studies the metabolic features of the picoalgae Ostreococcus, which is a prevalent phytoplankton in the world's oceans. Marine phytoplankton account for half of the earth's photosynthetic activity and are exposed to habitat changes brought about by global warming. Consequently, algae will evolve to adapt to the new conditions and possibly interact differently with their environment. Because of its relevance, and also because of its excellent properties as a model system (transformable, very small haploid and sequenced genome), Ostreococcus is used in the lab to investigate the relationship between metabolic adaptation and the environment.
Research in the Libourel lab is focused on the question what we can learn from "metabolic engineering" questions that have been solved in nature through evolution. The lab aims to achieve a mechanistic understanding of how, and which selective pressures are shaping metabolism, and how this knowledge can be used to predict evolution of metabolism in organisms confronted by selective pressures, for instance resulting from climate change. The same models are also utilized for the creation of evolutionarily stable metabolic engineering solutions for attractive traits such as biofuels production.
To achieve these goals the Libourel lab is developing genome-wide metabolic networks for several Ostreococcus species and using flux balance analyses to develop metabolic models. These models incorporate thermodynamic and cost efficiency considerations, and are used to i) elucidate the selective pressures that influence carbon assimilation and partitioning, and, ii) predict and experimentally validate the successive metabolic adaptations in response to selective pressures. The lab uses novel computational and genomic methods to investigate adaptive evolution of metabolism, and uses mass spectroscopy based enzyme quantification and isotope labeling measurements to experimentally test the modeled core metabolism of Ostreococcus.