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ABC Global Leader in Biomass 2019

home > Market areas > Strain Improvement

Strain Improvement

Market areas – Strain Improvement

As genetic engineering of microalgal strains are still in the early stages of development, it is difficult to find commercialized cases of genetically modified algae in industries. Therefore it is reasonable to look for current trends of biofuel companies in foreign countries.

According to Biofuel Digest (Ref. 1, 2), Sapphire Energy and Monsanto Company combined their efforts in collaboration for improvements of microalgae since 2013 by adapting the genes they used to improve crop strains. 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 materials that are not produced normally in the organism. Algenol Biofuels succeeded in ethanol fermentation using a blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) by introducing fermentation genes (PDC and ADH) under the control of a heat inducible promoter. It is reported that they have 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 production of biomaterials from microalgae. Synthetic biology can be simply defined as engineering of organisms for producing materials by employing comprehensive genomic and genetic information. In Korea, It is already applied for bacterial engineering by researchers at the Advanced Biomass R&D center (ABC), successfully producing valuable products for industrialization. These days, we are applying these techniques in microalgae to produce bio-fuel and high-value products.

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)