AMES, Iowa - Genetically stacking traits in corn in order to increase production, resist insects, improve standablity and many other characteristics is so common in agriculture that producers have come to expect it.
Some traits found in corn help it function as a better source for biofuels.
Lately, biofuels research has included a focus on using algae as a source for biofuels.
The problem is no one really understands the genomes of most algae well enough to consider the possibility of stacking traits to make them produce more oil, offer better thermal resistance or any of the other characteristics needed.
Martin Spalding hopes to change that.
With the help of a $4.37 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Spalding intends to develop a micro-algal platform that will allow micro-algae to be treated as a crop.
Spalding, professor and chair of genetics, development and cell biology and a council member of Iowa State's Plant Sciences Institute, is working with the one type of alga, Chlamydomonas, that is already genetically mapped.
Martin Spalding is working on stacking traits in Chlamydomonas algae.
"We have a sequenced genome, we understand the metabolism, and we have the tools available to us to work with this alga," he said.
Currently, the micro-algae used in biofuels production are wild strains found in nature and have certain traits that growers like, such as high oil production.
"Using those algae is a good strategy," Spalding said. "But the limitation with that strategy is that it has no flexibility, because the algae can't be manipulated genetically.
"The advantage of using a genetically flexible alga like Chlamydomonas is that we can manipulate it in various ways to tailor it to what the needs are," he said.
"Rather than look for an alga that produces trait 'x' or trait 'y' and then trying
|Contact: Dan Kuester|
Iowa State University