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Genetic Mapping of Algae Biofuel Species

Oils from the green algae Botryococcus braunii can be readily detected in petroleum deposits and coal deposits suggesting that B. braunii has been a contributor to developing these deposits and may be the major contributor, said Dr. Timothy Devarenne, AgriLife Research scientist with the Texas A&M University department of biochemistry and biophysics.This means that we are already using these oils to produce gasoline from petroleum.

B. braunii is a prime candidate for biofuel production because some races of the green algae typically accumulate hydrocarbons from to 30 percent to 40 percent of their dry weight, and are capable of obtaining hydrocarbon contents up to 86 percent of their dry weight.

Devarenne is part of a team comprised of other scientists with AgriLife Research, graduate student Taylor L. Weiss, Texas A&M department of biochemistry and biophysics; Dr. J. Spencer Johnston, Texas A&M department of entomology; Joe Chappell, University of Kentucky department of plant and soil sciences; and Shigeru Okada, the University of Tokyo graduate school of agricultural and life sciences.

Without understanding how the cellular machinery of a given algae works on the molecular level, it wont be possible to improve characteristics such as oil production, faster growth rates or increased photosynthesis, Devarenne said.

Like most green algae, B. braunii is capable of producing great amounts of hydrocarbon oils in a very small land area.

B. braunii algae show particular promise not just because of their high production of oil but also because of the type of oil they produce, Devarenne said. While many high-oil-producing algae create vegetable-type oils, the oil from B. braunii, known as botryococcenes, are similar to petroleum.

The fuels derived from B. braunii hydrocarbons are chemically identical to gasoline, diesel and kerosene, Devarenne said.Thus, we do not call them biodiesel or bio-gasoline; they are simply diesel and gasoline. To produce these fuels from B. braunii, the hydrocarbons are processed exactly the same as petroleum is processed and thus generates the exact same fuels. Remember, these B. braunii hydrocarbons are a main constituent of petroleum. So there is no difference other than the millions of years petroleum spent underground.

But, a shortcoming of B. braunii is its relatively slow growth rate. While the algae that produce vegetable-type oils may double their growth every 6 to 12 hours, B. braunii's doubling rate is about four days, he said.

Thus, getting large amounts of oil from B. braunii is more time consuming and thus more costly, Devarenne said.So, by knowing the genome sequence we can possibly identify genes involved in cell division and manipulate them to reduce the doubling rate.

Despite these characteristics and economic potential of algae, only six species of algae have had their genomes fully sequenced and annotated, Devarenne said. And B. braunii is not one of the six.

Devarenne and his colleagues have done some of the groundwork in better understanding B. braunii and sequencing its genome.

The researchers believe that once the entire genome of Botryococcus braunii is sequenced, the potential role of this species can be utilised to make it an ideal source for Biofuel production.
Mon March 15 2010 10:00:50 AM by Rumana Genome sequencing  |  Botryococcus braunii 1867 views
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