The flux in photosynthesis can be studied by performing 13CO2 pulse labelling and analysing the temporal labelling kinetics of metabolic intermediates using gas or liquid chromatography linked to mass spectrometry. Metabolic flux analysis (MFA) is the primary approach for analysing metabolic network function and quantifying intracellular metabolic fluxes. Different MFA approaches differ based on the metabolic state (steady vs. non-steady state) and the use of stable isotope tracers. The main methodology used to investigate metabolic systems is metabolite steady state associated with stable isotope labelling experiments. Specifically, in biological systems like photoautotrophic organisms, isotopic non-stationary 13C metabolic flux analysis at metabolic steady state with transient isotopic labelling (13C-INST-MFA) is required. The common requirement for metabolic steady state, alongside its very short half-timed reactions, complicates robust MFA of photosynthetic metabolism. While custom gas chambers design has addressed these challenges in various model plants, no similar tools were developed for liquid photosynthetic cultures (e.g., algae, cyanobacteria), where diffusion and equilibration of inorganic carbon species in the medium entails a new dimension of complexity. Recently, a novel tailor-made microfluidics labelling system has been introduced, supplying short 13CO2 pulses at steady state, and resolving fluxes across most photosynthetic metabolic pathways in algae. The system involves injecting algal cultures and medium containing pre-equilibrated inorganic 13C into a microfluidic mixer, followed by rapid metabolic quenching, enabling precise seconds-level label pulses. This was complemented by a 13CO2-bubbling-based open labelling system (photobioreactor), allowing long pulses (minutes–hours) required for investigating fluxes into central C metabolism and major products. This combined labelling procedure provides a comprehensive fluxome cover for most algal photosynthetic and central C metabolism pathways, thus allowing comparative flux analyses across algae and plants.
- Isotope labelling
- Non-stationary C-metabolic flux analysis