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Scripps Institution of Oceanography see algae as a “green bullet”

December 24th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted in Algae-Fuel-Research, Algae-Strains

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Gerwick’s team is working on methods to rapidly identify algae species to address situations in which algal biofuel ponds of one species are contaminated with another.

They are also using an imaging technique called mass spectrometry to explore the inner workings of organisms at the molecular level. The tool is helping the scientists determine the mechanisms of the genes that produce lipid molecules in the hopes of boosting lipid oil production by adding certain molecules to algal cultures.

Like Gerwick, Scripps biologist Mark Hildebrand only recently initiated algal biofuel studies in his laboratory at Scripps’ Hubbs Hall.

Hidebrand is optimistic about algae’s contribution to future bioenergy solutions, but he is realistic about the challenges ahead. And he is especially sensitive to misinformation being generated to the public about algae and biofuel. He particularly winces when he comes across public descriptions of biofuel algae as “common pond scum.”

For the record, many algae targeted for biofuel inhabit the sea, rather than terrestrial ponds. And the algae Hildebrand studies, tiny algae called diatoms, are far from scummy. He is quick to point out, backed by striking nano-scale images of the one-celled organisms, that they, in fact, can be quite beautiful.

He and members of his lab are probing a catch-22 presented in algal biofuel research. Algae mainly produce desired lipid oils when they are starved for nutrients. Yet if they are limited in nutrients, they don’t grow well. Give them a healthy diet of nutrients and they grow just fine, but they produce carbohydrates instead of lipids.

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