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Breakthrough: Scientists Produce Biofuel From Algae

First Posted: Jun 21, 2017 06:22 AM EDT
Turning Algae Into Biofuels
Algae can produce biofuel and be a renewable source of energy.
(Photo : ExxonMobil/YouTube screenshot)

Scientists have finally succeeded in finding another source in producing biofuel other than its source from corn and soybeans. They target algae to produce biofuel and even doubled the number of oil the algae could generate.

The discovery was described in the journal Nature Biotechnology. It was led by researchers from the J. Craig Venter Institute. They have spent eight years on examining and operating the genomes of various species of algae. Finally, they succeeded in producing biofuels out of algae.

In the research, the scientists identified the exact gene that controlled the amount of oil the algae produced. They discovered it by starving the algae of nitrogen that triggered them to generate more oil. Then, finally, they determined the actual gene, which is a regulator known as ZNCys, according to Popular Mechanics.

The scientists used the CRISPR gene editing method and the gene to make the algae generate more oil. They also utilized the advanced cell engineering to more than double the fatty lipids in a strain of algae. The results showed that the typical algae could generate around 10 to 15 percent oil. On the other hand, the modified version could generate 40 percent.

Bloomberg reports that Exxon Mobil Corporation is going to commercialize the algae-based biofuels. It is in collaboration with the Synthetic Genomics Inc., in which J. Craig Venter, the scientist who mapped the human genome, is the co-founder.

Venter said that tackling the inner workings of algae cells has not been trivial. He further said that nobody has ever been there before and no guideline to go by. He added that this discovery is significant advancement as the quest to make algae a renewable energy source.

Venter also said that no other group has achieved this level of lipid production by modifying the algae. No algae in production have this type of level. He then said that this is the first super-strong indication that there is a path to getting to where they need to go. 

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