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ABC Global Leader in Biomass 2019

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Strain Improvement

Market areas – Strain Improvement

Genetic improvements of microalgal strains are still in the infant stage in the commercial biofuel production, and this proprietary information is not open for public. Still, there are important events reported in publications or the media.

Sapphire Energy and Monsanto Company combined their efforts in collaboration for improvements of microalgae utilizing genes involved in crop productivity and stress tolerance since 2013, as reported by Biofuels Digest (Ref. 1,2). Monsanto Company is one of the biggest crop improvement companies in the world, and has accumulated tremendous amount of genetic engineering technology for crop improvements. One example is their RoundUp Ready corns that simplified weed control and succeeded in large scale production with higher productivity and lower cost. This and other genetically modified crops have contributed to solving famine problems in the third world. They also employed the Bt toxin (originated from Bacillus thuringiensis) in crops for the insect control. These agricultural concepts of genetic improvements are essential for microalgal production of biomaterials. Commercialization of the microalgal materials are faced with serious economic deficits, which may be partially solved by genetic improvements. Collaboration between the two giant companies specializing in the algal and crop cultivation, respectively, is drawing attention of all researchers and investors involved in microalgal biomaterials.

There are other examples of genetic engineering of microalgae for production of material that are not produced normally in the organism. Algenol Biofuels succeeded in ethanol fermentation using a blue-green alae (cyanobacteria) by introducing fermentation genes (PDC and ADH) under the control of a heat inducible promoter. It is reported that they filed patents and actually are producing ethanol from cyanobacteria that uses CO2 and sun light, but not organic carbons (Ref. 2, 3).

The concept of synthetic biology is being introduced into the microalgal biomaterial production scheme. Synthetic biology can be simply defined as engineering of organisms for producing materials by employing comprehensive genomic and genetic information. It is already used in bacterial engineering by research teams in the Advanced Biomass R&D Center (ABC), is currently being applied to microalgal engineering.

Ref. 1. Biofuels Digest (accessed 2016-5-18; http://www.biofuelsdigest.com/bdigest/2015/02/11/sapphire-energy-biofuels-digests-2015-5-minute-guide/)
Ref. 2. Snow, A.A., and Smith, V.H. (2012). Genetically engineered algae for biofuels: A key role for ecologists.
Bioscience 62, 765-768.
Ref. 3. Algenol (accessed 2016-5-18; http://www.algenol.com/direct-to-ethanol/the-technology)