It’s the holy grail for biofuel developers hoping to coax energy out of algae: Keep the organism fat enough to produce oil but spry enough to grow quickly.
J. Craig Venter, the scientist who mapped the human genome, just helped Exxon MobilCorp. strike that balance, with a breakthrough that could enable widespread commercialization of algae-based biofuels. Exxon and Venter’s Synthetic Genomics Inc.are announcing the development at a conference in San Diego on Monday.
They used advanced cell engineering to more than double the fatty lipids inside a strain of algae. The technique may be replicated to boost numbers on other species too.
"Tackling the inner workings of algae cells has not been trivial," Venter said. "Nobody’s really ever been there before; there’s no guideline to go by."
Venter, who co-founded Synthetic Genomics and sequenced the human genome in the 1990s, says the development is a significant advancement in the quest to make algae a renewable energy source. The discovery is being published in the July issue of the journal Nature Biotechnology.