Algae biofuels: the wave of the future

Apr 03, 2012

Researchers at Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech have assembled the draft genome of a marine algae sequence to aid scientists across the US in a project that aims to discover the best algae species for producing biodiesel fuel. The results have been published in Nature Communications.

The necessity of developing alternative, renewable fuel sources to prevent a potential and alleviate greenhouse gas production has long been recognized. Various sources have been tried—corn for ethanol and soybeans for biodiesel, for example. But to truly meet the world's fuel needs, researchers must come up with a way to produce as much biofuel as possible in the smallest amount of space using the least amount of resources.

Enter algae. Unlike other crops like corn or soybeans, algae can use various water sources ranging from wastewater to brackish water and be grown in small, intensive plots on denuded land. While may still produce some CO2 when burned, it can sequester CO2 during growth in a way that fossil-fuel based energy sources obviously can't.

Scientists in VBI's Data Analysis Core (DAC), Robert Settlage, Ph.D., and Hongseok Tae, Ph.D., assisted in the assembly of the of Nannochloropis gaditana, a that may be capable of producing the lipid yields necessary for a viable fuel source.

"Getting the data is now the easy part. What we're doing in the DAC is enabling researchers to move beyond informatics issues of assembly and analysis to regain their focus on the biological implications of their research," said Settlage.

Further analysis revealed that with fairly straightforward genetic modification, N. gaditana should be capable of producing biofuel on an industrial scale, which may be the wave of the future in fuel research and production.

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deatopmg
1 / 5 (1) Apr 03, 2012
So they want to release a GM alga into the environment - HMMMMMMM!

BTW - how do they plan to isolate/de-water the algae economically since the cell size of Nannochloropis is so small??
pauljpease
4.5 / 5 (2) Apr 03, 2012
So they want to release a GM alga into the environment - HMMMMMMM!

BTW - how do they plan to isolate/de-water the algae economically since the cell size of Nannochloropis is so small??


The algae produce lipids, and lipids separate naturally from water. As for releasing GM algae into the environment, it is extremely unlikely that any changes introduced that make the algae better at producing fuel would benefit them in the wild. They would be at a severe competitive disadvantage with wild algae. It's not very different than domestication of other organisms. Anyways, compared to the alternatives, the risk is small.
Sean_W
1 / 5 (1) Apr 03, 2012
They keep jumping the gun by focusing on fuels right away. Chemicals that are now produced from petrochemicals are valuable and easier to distribute to customers i.e. industries rather than gas stations. This saves oil and develops the technology and markets needed to feed the nascent industry.

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