Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Ancient algae: Genetically engineering a path to new energy sources?

Date:
July 13, 2011
Source:
Texas A&M AgriLife Communications
Summary:
A team of researchers is making a connection between prehistoric times and the present -- ancient algae that can produce their own biofuel -- that could result in genetically creating a replacement for oil and coal shale deposits. Their discovery could have fundamental implications for the future of Earth's energy supplies.

Botryococcus braunii, Race B, is an ancient, colony-forming green alga that has attracted interest because it accumulates large amounts of high-value, petrochemical replacement oils. The oil oozing from the algal colony is evident in this picture.
Credit: Photograph courtesy of Taylor Weiss, Andreas Holzenburg, Stanislav Vitha and Timothy P. Devarenne at Texas A&M University

A team of researchers led by University of Kentucky College of Agriculture Professor Joe Chappell is making a connection between prehistoric times and the present -- ancient algae that can produce their own biofuel -- that could result in genetically creating a replacement for oil and coal shale deposits. Their discovery could have fundamental implications for the future of Earth's energy supplies.

Tom Niehaus, completing his doctorate in the Chappell laboratory; Shigeru Okada, a sabbatical professor from the aquatic biosciences department at the University of Tokyo; Tim Devarenne, a UK graduate and now professor of biochemistry and biophysics at Texas A&M University; and UK colleagues, Chappell, David Watt, professor of cellular and molecular biochemistry (College of Medicine) and his post-doctoral associate Vitaliy Sviripa report their latest research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Their findings go well beyond the basic science dealing with the origins of oil and coal.

While scientists previously established that oil and coal have their roots in the organisms that lived on the planet over 500 million years ago, one micro-organism directly contributed to these natural resources. That organism is a species of algae called Botryococcus braunii, which left behind its chemical fingerprints -- an oil that over geological time has turned into oil and coal shale deposits.

"Even more exciting is that this unique alga, B. braunii, still exists today and has been the target of studies from the large chemical and petrochemical industries," said Chappell.

B. braunii are very slow growing algae, so the organism is not necessarily a good source for biofuels. However, if scientists can capture its genetic blueprints for the biosynthesis of these high value oils, then these genes could be used to generate alternative production platforms.

This team of investigators isolated the necessary genes, characterized the biochemical traits encoded by these genes, and then genetically engineered yeast to produce this very high-value oil. This work has provided the first example of recreating a true direct replacement for oil and coal shale deposits.

Chappell said, "This represents the culmination of an outstanding effort to understand a fundamental process that has direct ramifications for a real-world problem -- how are we going to generate a truly renewable biofuel supply?"

Devarenne added, "This study identifies a very remarkable molecular mechanism for the production of hydrocarbons that, as far as we can tell, is not found in any other organism. Thus, it offers a unique insight into how hydrocarbons were produced hundreds of millions of years ago."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Texas A&M AgriLife Communications. The original article was written by Paul Schattenberg. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Tom D. Niehaus, Shigeru Okada, Timothy P. Devarenne, David S. Watt, Vitaliy Sviripa, Joe Chappell. Identification of unique mechanisms for triterpene biosynthesis in Botryococcus braunii. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2011; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1106222108

Cite This Page:

Texas A&M AgriLife Communications. "Ancient algae: Genetically engineering a path to new energy sources?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 July 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110711164533.htm>.
Texas A&M AgriLife Communications. (2011, July 13). Ancient algae: Genetically engineering a path to new energy sources?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110711164533.htm
Texas A&M AgriLife Communications. "Ancient algae: Genetically engineering a path to new energy sources?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110711164533.htm (accessed July 31, 2014).

Share This




More Matter & Energy News

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Britain Testing Driverless Cars on Roadways

Britain Testing Driverless Cars on Roadways

AP (July 30, 2014) British officials said on Wednesday that driverless cars will be tested on roads in as many as three cities in a trial program set to begin in January. Officials said the tests will last up to three years. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Amid Drought, UCLA Sees Only Water

Amid Drought, UCLA Sees Only Water

AP (July 30, 2014) A ruptured 93-year-old water main left the UCLA campus awash in 8 million gallons of water in the middle of California's worst drought in decades. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Smartphone Powered Paper Plane Debuts at Airshow

Smartphone Powered Paper Plane Debuts at Airshow

AP (July 30, 2014) Smartphone powered paper airplane that was popular on crowdfunding website KickStarter makes its debut at Wisconsin airshow (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
U.K. To Allow Driverless Cars On Public Roads

U.K. To Allow Driverless Cars On Public Roads

Newsy (July 30, 2014) Driverless cars could soon become a staple on U.K. city streets, as they're set to be introduced to a few cities in 2015. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



    Save/Print:
    Share:

    Free Subscriptions


    Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

    Get Social & Mobile


    Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

    Have Feedback?


    Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
    Mobile: iPhone Android Web
    Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
    Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
    Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins