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The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
  • 2017-05-01 16:00:27
  • Article ID: 673907

First EPA-Approved Outdoor Field Trial for Genetically Engineered Algae

Experiment pushes toward the promise of algae as a clean, renewable food and fuel source

  • Credit: UC San Diego

    Engineered strains of algae tested in outdoor ponds.

  • Credit: UC San Diego

    Engineered strains of algae tested in outdoor ponds.

  • Credit: UC San Diego

    A green microalgae expressing green fluorescent protein.

Scientists at the University of California San Diego and Sapphire Energy have successfully completed the first outdoor field trial sanctioned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for genetically engineered algae.

In a series of experiments funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the researchers tested a genetically engineered strain of algae in outdoor ponds under real-world conditions. As reported in the journal Algal Research, the researchers conclude that genetically engineered algae can be successfully cultivated outdoors while maintaining engineered traits, and, most importantly, without adversely impacting native algae populations.

“Just as agricultural experts for decades have used targeted genetic engineering to produce robust food crops that provide human food security, this study is the first step to demonstrate that we can do the same with genetically engineered algae,” said Stephen Mayfield, a professor of biology and an algae geneticist at UC San Diego.

Under the EPA’s purview over a 50-day experiment, the scientists cultured strains of the algae species Acutodesmus dimorphus—genetically engineered with genes for fatty acid biosynthesis and green fluorescent protein expression—in parallel with non-engineered algal species. Testing both algae strains in water samples taken from five regional lakes showed strikingly similar levels of growth in the tests, and that the genetic modification did not change the impact of the cultivated strains on native algae communities.

“This study showed the framework for how this type of testing can be done in the future,” said study coauthor Jonathan Shurin, an ecologist in UC San Diego’s Division of Biological Sciences. “If we are going to maintain our standard of living in the future we are going to need sustainable food and energy, and ways of making those that do not disrupt the environment. Molecular biology and biotechnology are powerful tools to help us achieve that. Our experiment was a first-step towards an evidence-based evaluation of genetically engineered algae and their benefits and environmental risks.”

“Progress made in the lab means little if you can’t reproduce the phenotype in a production setting,” said Shawn Szyjka, the study’s lead author, formerly of Sapphire Energy.

Future testing will include additional gene types in experiments that run several months, allowing the researchers to further evaluate influences from weather, seasonal shifts and other environmental factors.

“Algae biomass can address many needs that are key to a sustainable future,” said Mayfield, director of the California Center for Algae Biotechnology and the Food and Fuel for the 21st Century initiative. “This is the first of many studies testing this technology in field settings.”

In addition to Mayfield, Shurin and Szyjka, coauthors of the study include: Briana Tyler, Christopher Yohn and Yan Poon of Sapphire Energy Inc.; and Shovon Mandal, Nathan Schoepp, Steven Villareal and Michael Burkart of UC San Diego. Note: Stephen Mayfield was a founder of Sapphire Energy but presently has no affiliation with the company.

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A New Optimization Model Could Bring Higher Solar-Power Integration

With numerous installations of solar power systems for residential homes at or near the distribution site, there is a challenge to balance supply and demand to make these intermittent energy sources reliable. Demand response is one promising way to increase operational flexibility and energy efficiency, and researchers in Malaysia have incorporated DR scenarios in case studies based on 100 urban low-voltage network samples to learn more. They report their findings in this week's Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy.

Making Polymer Chemistry 'Click'

A team including Berkeley Lab scientists has developed a faster and easier way to make a class of sulfur-containing plastics that will lower the cost of large-scale production.

Imaging Technology Reveals Copper Is Key to Meeting Future Food and Energy Needs

For the first time, Cornell University researchers are using imaging capabilities at the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS) to explore how copper affects plant fertility. The work could provide key insights into how plants can be bred for better performance in marginal soils.

PPPL Researchers Perform First Basic Physics Simulation of the Impact of Recycled Atoms on Plasma Turbulence

Article describes simulation of impact of recycled atoms on plasma turbulence.

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Using a publicly available climate model, Berkeley Lab researchers "hindcast" the conditions that led to the Sept. 9-16, 2013 flooding around Boulder, Colo. and found that climate change attributed to human activity made the storm much more severe than would otherwise have occurred.

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Energy-Efficient Accelerator Was 50 Years in the Making

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Scientists Program Yeast to Turn Plant Sugars into Biodiesel

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3-D Models Help Scientists Gauge Flood Impact

Using one of the world's most powerful supercomputers--Titan, the 27-petaflop Cray XK7 at the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility (OLCF)--a University of Iowa team performed one of the first highly resolved, 3-D, volume-of-fluid Reynolds-averaged Navier-Stokes (RANS) simulations of a dam break in a natural environment. The simulation allowed the team to map precise water levels for actual flood events over time.


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Information Scientist Herbert Van de Sompel to Receive Paul Evan Peters Award

Herbert Van de Sompel, research scientist at the Research Library of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, has been named the 2017 recipient of the Paul Evan Peters Award from the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI), the Association of Research Libraries, and EDUCAUSE.

CSU Joins Effort to Drive Clean Energy Innovation

The California State University (CSU) has partnered with the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI) to develop the next generation of clean energy entrepreneurs.

DOE User Facilities Join Forces to Tackle Biology's Big Data

Through the "Facilities Integrating Collaborations for User Science" (FICUS) initiative, 6 proposals have been selected to participate in a new partnership between the DOE Joint Genome Institute and the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, both U.S. Department of Energy user facilities at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Qubitekk Licenses ORNL Single-Photon Source Approach for Quantum Encryption

Qubitekk has non-exclusively licensed an Oak Ridge National Laboratory-developed method to produce quantum light particles, known as photons, in a controlled, deterministic manner that promises improved speed and security when sharing encrypted data.

Construction of Massive Neutrino Experiment Kicks Off a Mile Underground

A new era in international particle physics research officially began July 21 with a unique groundbreaking held a mile underground at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in South Dakota. Dignitaries, scientists and engineers from around the world marked the start of construction of a massive international experiment that could change our understanding of the universe. The Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF) will house the international Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE), which will be built and operated by roughly 1,000 scientists and engineers from 30 countries.

Construction Begins on International Mega-Science Experiment to Understand Neutrinos

In a unique groundbreaking ceremony held this afternoon at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead, South Dakota, a group of dignitaries, scientists and engineers from around the world marked the start of construction of a massive international experiment that could change our understanding of the universe. The Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF) will house the international Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE), which will be built and operated by a group of roughly 1,000 scientists and engineers from 30 countries.

Buchanan Named Deputy for Science and Technology at Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Michelle Buchanan, an accomplished scientific leader and researcher, has been appointed Deputy for Science and Technology at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory by new Lab Director Thomas Zacharia.

Neutrino Project to Fuel Particle Physics Research

Over the next decade, 800,000 tons of rock will be excavated from the former Homestake Mine in Lead, South Dakota, to accommodate a particle detector filled with 70,000 tons of liquid argon cooled to -300 degrees Fahrenheit to study neutrinos beamed from Fermilab in Illinois. It's called the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment.

Berkeley Lab to Lead Multimillion-Dollar Geothermal Energy Project

The Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) will lead a new $9 million project aimed at removing technical barriers to commercialization of enhanced geothermal systems (EGS), a clean energy technology with the potential to power 100 million American homes.

PNNL Scientist Ruby Leung Appointed a Battelle Fellow

Ruby Leung of the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has been named a Battelle Fellow -- the highest recognition from Battelle for leadership and accomplishment in science. She is one of eight Battelle fellows at PNNL.


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On Track Towards a Zika Virus Vaccine

Antibody's molecular structure reveals how it recognizes the Zika virus

Quantum Computing Building Blocks

Scientists invented an approach to creating ordered patterns of nitrogen-vacancy centers in diamonds, a promising approach to storing and computing quantum data.

Scientists Program Yeast to Turn Plant Sugars into Biodiesel

Redox metabolism was engineered in Yarrowia lipolytica to increase the availability of reducing molecules needed for lipid production.

Soils Could Release Much More Carbon than Expected as Climate Warms

Deeper soil layers are more sensitive to warming than previously thought.

Weaving a Fermented Path to Nylons

Microbial enzymes create precursors of nylon while avoiding harsh chemicals and energy-demanding heat.

Loosening of Lignocellulose: Switchgrass and Success in Sugar Release

Using a genetically modified line of switchgrass, scientists reduced plant cell wall recalcitrance while increasing sugar release over three generations.

Extending the Life of Lithium-Ion Batteries

Scientists offer new insights into how the source of electrons in batteries fails.

Unraveling the Molecular Complexity of Cellular Machines and Environmental Processes

State-of-the-art mass spectrometer delivers unprecedented capability to scientists.

Speeding Up Catalysts for Energy Storage

Researchers develop the fastest synthetic catalyst for producing hydrogen gas, potentially leading to a new environmentally friendly, affordable fuel.

Watching Neutrons Flow

Like water, neutrons seek their own level, and watching how they flow may teach us about how the chemical elements were made.


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