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article imageTricking algae into making biofuels

By Tim Sandle     Nov 12, 2013 in Science
Scientists have found a way to manipulate the internal clock of algae into thinking it is permanent daylight. This technique could lead to increased biofuel production.
Researchers have discovered that valuable compounds can be extracted at an enhanced rate from simple marine plants when they are grown in constant light. In a recent study it was found that when the biological clocks of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) were stopped in their daylight setting, the amount of several biomolecules that they were genetically altered to produce increased by as much as 700 percent.
To show this, the researchers inserted a gene for human insulin in some of the cyanobacteria cells, a gene for a fluorescent protein (luciferase) in other cells and a gene for hydrogenase, an enzyme that produces hydrogen gas, in yet others. They found that the cells with the locked clocks produced 200 percent more hydrogenase, 500 percent more insulin and 700 percent more luciferase.
The finding has important economic implications, because microalgae are used for a wide variety of commercial applications ranging from anti-cancer drugs to cosmetics to bioplastics to biofuels to neutraceuticals.
Algae are a potentially useful natural resource because they proliferate quickly and are found in abundance. Although a bioplastic has been produced, scientists do not yet think that they have found the right type of algae for large scale production. It could be that a genetically altered algae is required.
The findings have been published in the journal Current Biology. The paper is titled “Circadian Yin-Yang Regulation and Its Manipulation to Globally Reprogram Gene Expression.”
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