The breakthrough comes from expressing certain genes in algae that increase the amount of photosynthesis in the plant, which leads to more biomass.
Expressing genes means that the gene's function is turned on.
"The key to this (increase in biomass) is combination of two genes that increases the photosynthetic carbon conversion into organic matter by 50 percent over the wild type under carbon dioxide enrichment conditions," said Martin Spalding, professor in the Department of Genetics, Development, and Cell Biology and associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Carbon enrichment conditions are those in which the algae has enough carbon dioxide.
This patent-pending technology is available for licensing from the Iowa State University Research Foundation, which also provided technology development funds.
This opens up possibilities for more and better biofuel development, according to Spalding.
"There is no doubt in my mind that this brings us closer [to affordable, domestic biofuel]," said Spalding.
In nature, algae are limited from growing faster because they don't get enough carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, according to Spalding.
In environments that have relatively low levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), such as air in earth's atmosphere, two genes in algae, LCIA and LCIB, are expressed - or turned on - to help capture and then channel more carbon dioxide from the air into the cells to keep the algae alive and growing.
However, when algae are in environments with high carbon dioxide levels, such as in soil near plant roots that are expiring carbon dioxide, the two relevant genes shut down because the plant is getting enough carbon dioxide.
The process is similar to a car driving up a hill. The accelerator - these two genes - is pressed and the engine works hard to climb a hill. But when going down an incline, the driver often lets up on the accelerator since more gas isn't needed - the genes shut down.
The two genes are expressed - essentially keeping algae's foot on the gas - even when they are in a carbon dioxide-rich environment and don't need additional carbon dioxide.
Research by Spalding's group shows that algae can be made to produce biomass with the accelerator floored, even in conditions where it would normally just coast, Spalding said.
"Based on some prior research we had done, we expected to see an increase, probably in the 10 to 20 percent range" he said. "But we were surprised to see this big of an increase."
In experiments to get the algae type (Chlamydomonas reinhardtii) to produce more biomass, Spalding first expressed LCIA and LCIB separately. Each effort granted a significant 10 to 15 percent increase in biomass.
When the two genes were expressed together, Spalding was surprised to see the 50 to 80 percent biomass increase.
"Somehow these two genes are working together to increase the amount of carbon dioxide that's converted through photosynthesis into biomass by the algae under conditions where you would expect there would already be enough carbon dioxide," said Spalding.
The excess biomass naturally becomes starch through the photosynthesis process, and increases the biomass starch by around 80 percent.
By using some existing mutated genes, Spalding can instruct the algae to make oil instead of starch. This process requires more energy and the process results in around a 50 percent increase in oil biomass.
Spalding's research was funded in part by grants from the Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Department of Energy, Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy.
Martin Spalding | EurekAlert!
Machine learning, imaging technique may boost colon cancer diagnosis
06.12.2019 | Washington University in St. Louis
The 136 Million Atom-Model: Scientists Simulate Photosynthesis
06.12.2019 | Jacobs University Bremen gGmbH
University of Texas and MIT researchers create virtual UAVs that can predict vehicle health, enable autonomous decision-making
In the not too distant future, we can expect to see our skies filled with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) delivering packages, maybe even people, from location...
With ultracold chemistry, researchers get a first look at exactly what happens during a chemical reaction
The coldest chemical reaction in the known universe took place in what appears to be a chaotic mess of lasers. The appearance deceives: Deep within that...
Abnormal scarring is a serious threat resulting in non-healing chronic wounds or fibrosis. Scars form when fibroblasts, a type of cell of connective tissue, reach wounded skin and deposit plugs of extracellular matrix. Until today, the question about the exact anatomical origin of these fibroblasts has not been answered. In order to find potential ways of influencing the scarring process, the team of Dr. Yuval Rinkevich, Group Leader for Regenerative Biology at the Institute of Lung Biology and Disease at Helmholtz Zentrum München, aimed to finally find an answer. As it was already known that all scars derive from a fibroblast lineage expressing the Engrailed-1 gene - a lineage not only present in skin, but also in fascia - the researchers intentionally tried to understand whether or not fascia might be the origin of fibroblasts.
Fibroblasts kit - ready to heal wounds
Research from a leading international expert on the health of the Great Lakes suggests that the growing intensity and scale of pollution from plastics poses serious risks to human health and will continue to have profound consequences on the ecosystem.
In an article published this month in the Journal of Waste Resources and Recycling, Gail Krantzberg, a professor in the Booth School of Engineering Practice...
03.12.2019 | Event News
15.11.2019 | Event News
15.11.2019 | Event News
06.12.2019 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation
06.12.2019 | Life Sciences
06.12.2019 | Medical Engineering