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A new method could help algae spread to plastics, cosmetics, food and energy production

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Posted December 8, 2017

Our energy demands are growing as fast as public concern for environmental protection. We use more plastics, we use more resources, we buy more and it will never stop. However, we can learn to meet our energy demands using ecological methods. Scientists from the University of Edinburgh say that algae could power our planet, if we used one hi-tech tool.

A novel gene editing technique could significantly increase yields of algae industry. Image credit: CSIRO via Wikimedia(CC BY 3.0)

That tool, of course, if gene-editing technique. It could help us produce the exact type of algae that would benefit cosmetics, energy production, plastics and even food industry. Scientists have now developed a method which could push this technology further, expanding possibilities of algae usage in industry and opening doors for new potential products. Algae have been used in such ways for decades, but the progress has be hindered by the lack of engineering tools. Scientists from the University of Edinburgh are now creating an improved gene editing method, which would increase algae production and could open doors to developing new sorts of food and medicine.

This new method uses CRISPR molecules that act like scissors, cutting out pieces from DNA. This leaves space for scientists to insert new genes or alter the existing ones. This was very difficult to achieve before, but now it could increase yields of products currently made using algae. This new technique is approximately 500 times more efficient than previous method, so this achievement is nothing short of a breakthrough. CRISPR scissors and pieces of DNA work in a very precise way, which allows producing a very specific type of algae for each task.

Algae industry is already projected to be worth $1.1billion by 2024. This new technique could even improve this forecast. Scientists developed the technique for the most common species of algae in the industry – Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Interestingly, scientists are already thinking that a similar technique could be used to engineer crops to increase yields, improve disease resistance or survival in harsh environmental conditions. Dr Attila Molnar, one of the authors of the study, said: “Our findings mark a key advance in large-scale algal genome engineering. Our technique is applicable to a wide range of species, and could pave the way for the development of designer algae, which has many biotechnology applications”.

Scientists say that algae could feed and power the planet thanks to this tool. This, of course, is still just a hopeful dream, but increasing productivity of algae industry and pushing more algae products onto the shelves would be a great achievement.

 

Source: University of Edinburgh

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