Aurora Algae has released a new method of developing algae strains that can be designed to meet fuel needs without using ‘foreign genes’ and instead using the algae’s natural genetic makeup.
Aurora says that in the past algae development has been limited to using existing strains of eukaryotic microalgae, because there was not enough technology available for genome manipulation.
‘Homologous recombination had already proven to be a powerful tool for investigating gene function in yeast, which helped make yeast a preferred subject for genetic research around the world. But this tool was not available for algae suitable for industrial applications,’ Bert Vick, chief scientific officer at Aurora Algae, explains to Biofuels International magazine.
‘For the biofuels industry, this technology should result in rapid advances in understanding pathways involved in the metabolism of lipids and other compounds, which would lead to algae strains more closely tailored to the needs of the industry.’
The company has developed a technique that applies ‘homologous recombination to Nannochloropsis, a fast-growing, unicellular alga capable of accumulating large amounts of oil’, which can increase the function of the genomes of the algae.
‘We have made rapid progress in developing molecular tools for the optimisation of Nannochloropsis,’ says Vick. ‘We have had the full genome and transcriptome sequences for several years now, as well as high-efficiency transformation and homologous recombination technology. Using our suite of molecular tools, we now have the ability to tailor algae strains to meet the specific needs of customers, all in a completely natural, non-transgenic manner.’
‘One recent success was the development of a non-transgenic strain of algae with an altered lipid profile having a higher proportion of EPA, the valuable omega-3 essential fatty acid. Our ability to produce omega-3s in open pond systems will completely disrupt the industry,’ he adds.
There are cost benefits to the process because algae strains can be optimised and tailored specifically for growth in production ponds made up of seawater.
‘We can increase levels of lipid accumulation, or even change the lipid profile to be more tailored to the needs of biofuel production. Any increase in the productivity of a valuable compound will increase revenue and thus directly impact our bottom line,’ says Vick.