Biologists at UC San Diego have demonstrated for the first time that marine algae can be just as capable as fresh water algae in producing biofuels.
The scientists genetically engineered marine algae to produce five different kinds of industrially important enzymes and say the same process they used could be employed to enhance the yield of petroleum-like compounds from these salt water algae. Their achievement is detailed in a paper published online in the current issue of the scientific journal Algal Research.
The ability to genetically transform marine algae into a biofuel crop is important because it expands the kinds of environments in which algae can be conceivably grown for biofuels. Corn, for example, which is used to produce ethanol biofuel, requires prime farmland and lots of fresh water. But the UC San Diego study suggests that algal biofuels can be produced in the ocean or in the brackish water of tidelands or even on agricultural land on which crops can no longer be grown because of high salt content in the soil.
"What our research shows is that we can achieve in marine species exactly what we've already done in fresh water species," said Stephen Mayfield, a professor of biology at UC San Diego, who headed the research project. "There are about 10 million acres of land across the United States where crops can no longer be grown that could be used to produce algae for biofuels. Marine species of algae tend to tolerate a range of salt environments, but many fresh water species don't do the reverse. They don't tolerate any salt in the environment."
"The algal community has worked on fresh water species of algae for 40 years," added Mayfield, who also directs the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology, or SD-CAB, a consortium of research institutions in the region working to make algal biofuels a viable transportation fuel in the future. "We know how to grow them, manipulate them genetically, express recombinant proteins—all of the things required to make biofuels viable. It was always assumed that we could do the same thing in marine species, but there was always some debate in the community as to whether that could really be done."
That debate came to a head last month when a National Academy of Sciences committee examining the future potential of algal biofuels for the U.S. Department of Energy published a report pointing out that the production of algal biofuels might be limited by fresh water because no published research study had demonstrated the feasibility of using engineered marine species of algae.
"But now we've done it," said Mayfield. "What this means is that you can use ocean water to grow the algae that will be used to produce biofuels. And once you can use ocean water, you are no longer limited by the constraints associated with fresh water. Ocean water is simply not a limited resource on this planet."
The UC San Diego biologists focused their study on a marine species of alga, Dunaliella tertiolecta, which had been earlier targeted by scientists for potential biofuels production because of its high oil content and ability to grow rapidly under a wide range of salinity and acidic conditions. To demonstrate that it could be used in commercial biofuel production, they introduced five genes into the alga that produced five different kinds of enzymes that could be used in an industrial setting to not only convert biomass to fuel, but also increase nutrient availability in animal feed. Some of these enzymes, for example, came from a fungus that degrades plant material into simple sugars.
The scientists said in their paper that "we hope to eventually determine whether whole algae, post-oil extraction, may be used as a feed additive to improve animal feeds. Animal feed is a relatively high volume market that may be able to benefit from algae-produced proteins as a feed additive."
University of California - San Diego: http://www.ucsd.edu
This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.
A skin-eating fungus that infiltrated Europe through the global wildlife trade is threatening to inflict massive losses on the continent's native salamanders including extinction of whole species and could do the same in North America, scientists say.
A gray wolf was recently photographed on the north rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona in what would be the first wolf sighting in the national park since the last one was killed there in the 1940s, conservation groups said on Thursday.
Two years after Sandy, researchers in New Jersey want to bring more powerful predictions to the people
In order to save the Amazon, it's not enough for deforestation to stop; areas that have been denuded also need recuperation. A Brazilian research scientist has released a report with the World Wildlife Fund that suggested actions to curb the effect of humans on the world's largest rainforest.
Smithsonian photographer Laurie Penland details the exhausting, but rewarding, work of scraping invasive species off the hull of a boat
Politicians who ignore message cannot in future say they take science seriously, open letter says
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy two years ago, shocking photos showed the huge extent of the destruction caused by the storm. Only days after the storm struck, before and after satellite images from Google revealed the widespread damage to coastal areas of New York and New Jersey. Last year, before and after photos showed progress but still a lot of work to be done.
Australian scientists say they have successfully tested a vaccine aimed at protecting wild koalas from chlamydia.
A startup that might have a record-breaking solar cell is in danger of going out of business.The power unit is a rectangular slab about the size of a movie theater screen. It’s mounted on a thick steel post, and equipped with a tracking mechanism that continuously points it at the sun. The slab is made of over 100,000 small lenses and an equal number of even smaller solar cells, each the size of the tip of a ballpoint pen. This contraption is part of one of the most efficient solar power devices ever made.
There are several captive breeding programs for pandas around the world; but one facility in China hopes to release the endangered animals back into the wild