Gene-Editing Technique: Algae Could Feed and Fuel Planet


The scientists from Edinburgh found a new technique by which the algae could produce vast quantities of feed as well as fuel. With the aid of the gene-editing technique, the yield of products produced by the algae was increased. The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and Scottish Bioenergy.

The green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii is a precious organism used in the research fields including plant, algal, and ciliary biology. Accordingly, decades-long standing inefficiencies in targeted nuclear gene-editing broadly hinder Chlamydomonas research. Scientists have developed a new technique that could lead to cheap, eco-friendly ways of making products for use in the cosmetics, food and plastic industries.

In the present research, the scientists improve the efficiency of gene-editing to increase yields of products made by the algae. This technique could be beneficial in producing some food supplements as well as new products. The gene-editing technique uses molecules that act like scissors to cut DNA (CRISPR molecules) which allow researchers to add new genes or modify existing ones.

The scientists from the University of Edinburgh use this technique in algae, but it was difficult. Thus, the team added CRISPR molecular scissors and short pieces of DNA directly to algae cells to make precise modifications to the genetic code. The new technique was more precise, and the efficiency was increased by 500-fold compared to previous techniques.

The discovery could unleash the potential of the global algae industry, projected to be worth $1.1 billion by 2024. Besides, the method could potentially be used to engineer crops to increase yields as well as improve disease resistance or enable plants to thrive in harsh climates.

"Our findings mark a key advance in large-scale algal genome engineering. Our technique applies to a wide range of species, and could pave the way for the development of designer algae, which has many biotechnology applications." Dr. Attila Molnar, of the University of Edinburgh's School of Biological Sciences is the lead author mentioned in the study.