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Engineering alternative fuel with cyanobacteria
Date:1/9/2013

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. Sandia National Laboratories Truman Fellow Anne Ruffing has engineered two strains of cyanobacteria to produce free fatty acids, a precursor to liquid fuels, but she has also found that the process cuts the bacteria's production potential.

Micro-algal fuels might be one way to reduce the nation's dependence on foreign energy. Such fuels would be renewable since they are powered by sunlight. They also could reduce carbon dioxide emissions since they use photosynthesis, and they could create jobs in a new industry. President Barack Obama, speaking in February at the University of Miami, advocated for investments in algae fuel development, saying they could replace up to 17 percent of the oil the United States now imports for transportation.

"Even if algae are not the end-term solution, I think they can contribute to getting us there," Ruffing said. "Regardless of however you look at fossil fuels, they're eventually going to run out. We have to start looking to the future now and doing research that we'll need when the time comes."

She has been studying the direct conversion of carbon dioxide into biofuels by photosynthetic organisms under a three-year Truman Fellowship that ends in January. She presented her project at a poster session in August and published her work on one strain, "Physiological Effects of Free Fatty Acid Production in Genetically Engineered Synechococcus elongatus PCC 7942," as the cover article in the September 2012 issue of Biotechnology and Bioengineering.

Ruffing considers her studies as proof-of-concept work that demonstrates engineering cyanobacteria for free fatty acid (FFA) production and excretion. She wants to identify the best hydrocarbon targets for fuel production and the best model strain for genetic engineering, as well as gene targets to improve FFA production.

She is using cyanobacteria blue-green algae because they are easier to genetically manip
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Contact: Sue Holmes
sholmes@sandia.gov
505-844-6362
DOE/Sandia National Laboratories
Source:Eurekalert

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