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Iowa State University scientists genetically increase algae biomass by more than 50 percent
Date:11/21/2011

AMES, Iowa - Research at Iowa State University has led to discovery of a genetic method that can increase biomass in algae by 50 to 80 percent.

The breakthrough comes from expressing certain genes in algae that increase the amount of photosynthesis in the plant, which leads to more biomass.

Expressing genes means that the gene's function is turned on.

"The key to this (increase in biomass) is combination of two genes that increases the photosynthetic carbon conversion into organic matter by 50 percent over the wild type under carbon dioxide enrichment conditions," said Martin Spalding, professor in the Department of Genetics, Development, and Cell Biology and associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Carbon enrichment conditions are those in which the algae has enough carbon dioxide.

This patent-pending technology is available for licensing from the Iowa State University Research Foundation, which also provided technology development funds.

This opens up possibilities for more and better biofuel development, according to Spalding.

"There is no doubt in my mind that this brings us closer [to affordable, domestic biofuel]," said Spalding.

In nature, algae are limited from growing faster because they don't get enough carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, according to Spalding.

In environments that have relatively low levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), such as air in earth's atmosphere, two genes in algae, LCIA and LCIB, are expressed - or turned on - to help capture and then channel more carbon dioxide from the air into the cells to keep the algae alive and growing.

However, when algae are in environments with high carbon dioxide levels, such as in soil near plant roots that are expiring carbon dioxide, the two relevant genes shut down because the plant is getting enough carbon dioxide.

The process is similar to a car driving up a hill. The accelerator - these two genes
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Contact: Martin Spalding
mspaldin@iastate.edu
515-294-7740
Iowa State University
Source:Eurekalert  

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