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A new use for algae in biofuel production

July 25, 2013 – Recently companies from all over the globe, like Exxon Mobile and Itochu Corporation, have merged with research facilities to research algae as a renewable energy source.


July 25, 2013
By Canadian Biomass

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However, it has been determined that far more research is
needed before movement to the commercial production phase of algae biofuel can
truly take place. A recent research study took up this challenge and examined a
promising freshwater algal strain for possible genetic engineering applications
that could make it a viable biofuel.

An article in the journal Phycologia takes an in-depth look
at the genetic structure of a unicellular green alga, Botryococcus braunii, and
explores its unique ability to be utilized in the genetic engineering of
biofuel development. Botryococcus braunii was initially selected for
large-scale biofuel production because of its extraordinary ability to
synthesize large amounts of hydrocarbon oils. Several difficulties were encountered
in the initial production and harvesting processes, leaving it by the wayside.
However, this latest research reintroduces B. braunii as the perfect vehicle
for genetic engineering applications when compared with three other species of
green algae, five species of land plants, and eight other phyla species,
including bacteria, archaea, fungi, and mammals.

The research focused on the codon usage, or DNA
compatibility, of B. braunii with the other organisms. Codon usage for this
particular alga is one of the fundamental genetic markers that had not been
explored. Codons are greatly affected by the vast amount of guanines (G) and
cytosines (C), two of the four nucleotides that make up a DNA molecule. Many
green algal species having high GC content, which causes codon usage bias, or
poor compatibility, with other organisms. Surprisingly, B. braunii had
comparatively low GC content and its codon usage was similar to that of
bacteria, mammals, and land plants.

Although further study is necessary, the ability of B.
braunii to synthesize hydrocarbons, combined with the newly discovered codon
usage and GC content data, could lead to new genetic engineering techniques
that could hasten biofuel development and production.

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Full text of the article, "Codon usage of Botryococcus
braunii (Trebouxiophyceae, Chlorophyta): implications for genetic engineering
applications," Phycologia, Vol. 52, No. 4, 2013 , is available at phycologia.org.


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