Study finds algal cells create fat more quickly than thought, could aid biofuel research

Aug 30, 2013 by Mickie Anderson

(Phys.org) —Many scientists see great promise in algae as a new source of oil—a sustainable, environmentally sound way to break the world's fossil fuel dependence.

Algal lipids from microalgae are one of the best sources for biofuels—algae grow quickly, tolerate , and do not pose the same issues as biofuel crops that are grown both for fuel and food.

Many research teams in academia and private industry are struggling, however, with one vexing problem with algae as a fuel source: The conditions that promote algal growth aren't the same as the conditions that allow the algae to create the maximum amount of oil.

In short: If algae are deprived of nitrogen, the cells become stressed and begin to produce lipids, but their growth rate slows. And if alga is ever to become a commercially viable , scientists must ensure that not only can it produce as many lipids as possible, but also that it can grow at the fastest rate possible.

Bala Rathinasabapathi, a professor in the University of Florida's horticultural sciences department, and graduate research assistant Elton Goncalves decided to look into how nitrogen starvation stress induces accumulation in , also called chlorella.

Their findings, described online this month in the journal Planta, show that lipid accumulation in begins just hours after they are starved of nitrogen – not days, as scientists previously believed.

They also found that about 30 percent of lipids produced under nitrogen stress occurred as the membrane began to degrade inside each cell, the cell recycling the membrane lipids to oil.

"Our hope is that what we have done will be helpful to understand what's going on in cells under nitrogen starvation and might help us to tweak the technique where we can use the cells to make lipids but not necessarily stop growth – that's our long-term goal," Rathinasabapathi said.

The next step for the researchers is to begin looking at genes and proteins involved during the cellular-stress stage, he said.

"We're working to understand that genetic network, which is important for turning on ," he said. "That's our next goal."

Explore further: Study identifies highly efficient new Cas9 for in vivo genome editing

Related Stories

Colorado's new alga may be a source of biofuel production

May 28, 2013

A new strain of yellow-green algae, heterococcus sp. DN1, which may prove to be an efficient source for biodiesel, has been discovered in the snow fields of the Rocky Mountains. Research examining this new alga, published in ...

Disabling enzyme reduces tumor growth, cripples cancer cells

Aug 26, 2013

Knocking out a single enzyme dramatically cripples the ability of aggressive cancer cells to spread and grow tumors, offering a promising new target in the development of cancer treatments, according to a new study by researchers ...

Recommended for you

Longer DNA fragments reveal rare species diversity

10 hours ago

A challenge in metagenomics is that the more commonly used sequencing machines generate data in short lengths, while short-read assemblers may not be able to distinguish among multiple occurrences of the ...

Simplifying SNP discovery in the cotton genome

13 hours ago

The term "single-nucleotide polymorphism" (SNP) refers to a single base change in DNA sequence between two individuals. SNPs are the most common type of genetic variation in plant and animal genomes and are, thus, an important ...

Japanese company 'makes tear-free onions'

Mar 31, 2015

The sobbing of a chef as he chops onions in the kitchen could be a thing of the past thanks to one Japanese company which says it has produced a tear-free vegetable.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.