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Genetically Modified Marine Algae to Increase Biofuel Production

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Biologists at the University of California – San Diego disproves last month’s report of National Academy of Sciences to the Department of Energy that claimed algal biofuel production might be limited by freshwater, by demonstrating that marine algae can be bioengineered to produce biofuels as freshwater algae do.

Researchers led by Stephen Mayfield showed that the marine alga Dunaliella tertiolecta can be used to produce biofuel by incorporating into it five genes that synthesize five different kinds of enzymes that can be used in biomass to fuel conversion.

Scientists have been eyeing the said marine algal species due to its high oil content and rapid growth under broad ranges of environmental salinity and acidity.

In addition to biofuel production, the modified alga can be used in increasing nutrients available in animal feed since one of the enzymes incorporated stems from a fungus that breaks down plants’ organic matter into simple sugars.

The study shows that an expansion in algal biofuel production is possible in oceans, and thus, not limited to fresh waters. The researchers’ next goal is to determine if after the oil extraction, the whole algae can be used as an additive to animal feeds.

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