Satellite Banner
Scientific Communities
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article

Researchers Engineer Breakthrough for Biofuel Production

Published: Monday, November 25, 2013
Last Updated: Monday, November 25, 2013
Bookmark and Share
Prospects for economic and sustainable fuel alternative enhanced with discovery.

Researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego have developed a method for greatly enhancing biofuel production in tiny marine algae.

As reported in this week’s online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Scripps graduate student Emily Trentacoste led the development of a method to genetically engineer a key growth component in biofuel production.

In the quest to loosen humanity’s dependence on traditional fossil fuel consumption, and with it rising concentrations of carbon dioxide and their damaging impacts on the environment, finding economically viable fuels from biological sources has been elusive.

A significant roadblock in algal biofuel research surrounds the production of lipid oils, the fat molecules that store energy that can be produced for fuel. A catch-22 has stymied economically efficient biofuel production because algae mainly produce the desired lipid oils when they are starved for nutrients. Yet if they are limited in nutrients, they don’t grow well. With a robust diet algae grow well, but they produce carbohydrates instead of the desired lipids for fuel.

In a significant leap forward that clears the lipid production hurdle, Trentacoste and her colleagues used a data set of genetic expression (called “transcriptomics” in laboratories) to target a specific enzyme inside a group of microscopic algae known as diatoms (Thalassiosira pseudonana). By metabolically engineering a “knock-down” of fat-reducing enzymes called lipases, the researchers were able to increase lipids without compromising growth. The genetically altered strains they developed, the researchers say, could be produced broadly in other species.

“These results demonstrate that targeted metabolic manipulations can be used to increase accumulation of fuel-relevant molecules.… with no negative effects on growth,” said Trentacoste. “We have shown that engineering this pathway is a unique and practical approach for increasing lipid yields.”

“Scientifically this is a huge achievement,” said Mark Hildebrand, a marine biology professor at Scripps and a coauthor of the study. “Five years ago people said you would never be able to get more lipids without affecting growth negatively. This paper shows that there isn’t an intrinsic barrier and gives us hope of more new things that we can try—it opens the door to a lot more work to be done.”

In addition to lowering the cost of biofuel production by increasing lipid content, the new method has led to advances in the speed of algal biofuel crop production due to the efficient screening process used in the new study.

“Maintaining high growth rates and high biomass accumulation is imperative for algal biofuel production on large economic scales,” the authors note in the paper.

“It seems especially fitting that Scripps-UC San Diego is displaying so much leadership in the field of sustainable biofuels from algae, for instance with the California Center for Algae Biotechnology starting here, given the history of the institution playing such a pivotal role in climate change research,” said paper coauthor William Gerwick, a distinguished professor of oceanography and pharmaceutical sciences
at Scripps’s Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine
and UC San Diego’s Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. “But these advances do not happen in isolation, and the current project is a great illustration of how different labs can collaborate to achieve greater advances than possible singly.”

Further Information
Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 2,700+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More Than 3,800+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters

Sign In

Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

Microscopic Fish are 3D-Printed to do More Than Swim
Researchers demonstrate a novel method to build microscopic robots with complex shapes and functionalities.
Thursday, August 27, 2015
New Method Makes Culture of Complex Tissue Possible in any Lab
Scientists at the University of California, San Diego have developed a new method for making scaffolds for culturing tissue in three-dimensional arrangements that mimic those in the body.
Friday, February 10, 2012
Genetic Abnormalities Identified in Pluripotent Stem Cell Lines
A multinational team of researchers led by stem cell scientists at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and Scripps Research Institute has documented specific genetic abnormalities that occur in human embryonic (hESC) and induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) lines.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Scientific News
Breaking Through the Barriers to Lab Innovation
Here we examine the drivers behind the move for greater innovation, the challenges and current trends in laboratory informatics, and the tools that can be used to break these barriers.
Education and Expense: The Barriers to Mass Spectrometry in Clinical Laboratories?
Here we examine the perceived barriers to mass spec in clinical laboratories and explore the possible drivers behind the recent shift in uptake of the technology in clinical settings.
Fruit Fly Pheromone Flags Great Real Estate for Starting a Family
Finding could aid efforts to control mosquito-borne diseases like malaria by manipulating odorants
Gene Editing Could Enable Pig-To-Human Organ Transplant
The largest number of simultaneous gene edits ever accomplished in the genome could help bridge the gap between organ transplant scarcity and the countless patients who need them.
Antioxidants Cause Malignant Melanoma to Metastasize Faster
Fresh research at Sahlgrenska Academy has found that antioxidants can double the rate of melanoma metastasis in mice.
New Therapy Reduces Symptoms of Inherited Enzyme Deficiency
A phase three clinical trial of a new enzyme replacement medication, sebelipase alfa, showed a reduction in multiple disease-related symptoms in children and adults with lysosomal acid lipase deficiency, an inherited enzyme deficiency that can result in scarring of the liver and high cholesterol.
Adult High Blood Pressure Risk Identifiable in Childhood
Groups of people at risk of having high blood pressure and other related health issues by age 38 can be identified in childhood, new University of Otago research suggests.
Analyzing Protein Structures in Their Native Environment
Enhanced-sensitivity NMR could reveal new clues to how proteins fold.
Supercoiled DNA is Far More Dynamic Than the “Watson-Crick” Double Helix
Researchers have imaged in unprecedented detail the three-dimensional structure of supercoiled DNA, revealing that its shape is much more dynamic than the well-known double helix.
Mini-kidneys Successfully Grown from Stem Cells
Researchers from Murdoch Childrens Research Institute have perfected a method of turning stem cells into mini-kidneys for use in drug screening, disease modelling and cell therapy.
Scroll Up
Scroll Down
Skyscraper Banner

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
2,700+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
3,800+ scientific videos