• The Suissa Life Sciences Building (212), 4th floor, Room 419

20112023

Research activity per year

Personal profile

Research interests

Prof. Rakefet Schwarz received her BSc, MSc and PhD from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and got her post-doctoral training at Stanford University. Studies in her laboratory at Bar-Ilan are focused on mechanisms allowing cyanobacteria to sense their environment, acclimate according to ambient cues and survive under a large variety of conditions. Cyanobacteria had, and still have a substantial impact on life on Earth. They had a pivotal role in the history of life by producing oxygen and allowing developmet of aerobic organisms. Furthermore, cyanobacteria are considered the ancestors of higher plants. Currently, the central ecological importance of cyanobacteria is manifested in their significant contribution to global carbon and nitrogen cycles. Additional major environmental impact stems from cyanobacterial blooms, which affect the entire food chain, and in cases of ‘toxic blooms' cause the collapse of large aquatic ecosystems and impact the quality of water reservoirs. Cyanobacteria, which are highly abundant in the environment, exhibit great versatility in terms of acclimation to ambient conditions. Studies in Schwarz group of cyanobacterial stress physiology and the molecular mechanisms underlying it, provide insight into fundamental cellular processes, e.g. regulated proteolysis and multicellular behavior of bacteria. Additionally, the information gleaned from these studies paves the way for genetically manipulating cyanobacteria in order to modulate their growth and other desired properties for the benefit of mankind.

Research Laboratory

Our laboratory employs genetic approaches and cutting-edge molecular tools to study mechanisms allowing cyanobacteria to sense changes in the environment and survive under a large variety of conditions. Cyanobacteria had, and still have a substantial impact on life on earth. Being the first organisms that performed ‘oxygenic photosynthesis’, cyanobacteria had a pivotal role in the history of life by changing the chemistry of the atmosphere and allowing the development of aerobic eukaryotes. Furthermore, cyanobacteria are considered the ancestors of chloroplasts of algae and higher plants. Currently, the central ecological importance of cyanobacteria is manifested in their significant contribution to global CO2 fixation (25-30% of global CO2 fixation is attributed to cyanobacteria). Additional major environmental impact stems from cyanobacterial blooms, which affect the entire food chain, and in cases of ‘toxic blooms’ cause the collapse of large aquatic ecosystems and impact the quality of water reservoirs. Our studies of cyanobacterial stress physiology and the molecular mechanisms underlying it, provide insight into fundamental cellular processes, e.g. regulated proteolysis and multicellular behavior of bacteria.

Cyanobacterial Biofilms

Biofilms are bacterial communities encased by extracellular matrix produced by the residing bacteria. Cyanobacterial biofilms are environmentally prevalent, and additionally, often occur in an industrial context, imposing damage and leading to financial loss; however, information on cyanobacterial mechanisms involved in biofilm development is scarce. Thus, our studies provide a new cellular context in which to investigate the developmental process of biofilm formation. We recently uncovered a process of self-inhibition of biofilm formation in the cyanobacterium S. elongatus. Additionally, we identified genes essential for biofilm development.

Regulated Proteolysis of the Phycobilisome

Cyanobacteria, much like other photosynthetic organisms, adjust their light harvesting apparatus in response to environmental cues. This tuning allows effective light absorbance for the phototrophic metabolism while preventing the deleterious effect of surplus excitation. The phycobilisome, the cyanobacterial pigment antenna, is a supramolecular assembly that may reach 4 MDa. A small protein, NblA, is essential for the degradation of this pigment complex under nutrient limitation. We recently revealed that this small protein associates with phycobilisomes attached to the photosynthetic membranes. We propose that NblA serves a dual function: undermining complex stability and designating the dissociated pigments for degradation.

Tailoring Cyanobacteria for Biofuel

Environmental as well as economic factors call for sustainable alternatives to the use of fossil fuels. Biofuels derived from arable crops are not cost-effective and the impact of these ‘first generation biofuels’ on food supply and price have raised ethical questions. Photosynthetic microorganisms offer an efficient means for biofuel production that is not associated with the current problems of land-based feedstock. We genetically modified S. elongatus in order to increase accumulation of glycogen, a raw material for bioethanol production.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 15 - Life on Land

Education/Academic qualification

PhD, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Jan 1988Jan 1993

Award Date: 1 Jan 1993

Master, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Oct 1985Jun 1987

Award Date: 30 Jun 1987

Bachelor, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Oct 1982Jun 1985

Award Date: 30 Jun 1985

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