Harnessing Air to Fuel with Algae:
The Power of Photosynthesis Of Algae in Production
The core of this project lies in leveraging the exceptional abilities of blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, a group of single-cell microorganisms known for their rapid reproduction and remarkable photosynthetic efficiency. Through advanced synthetic biotechnologies, including gene editing, these organisms have been engineered to “eat” air specifically, to use carbon dioxide from the atmosphere — and convert it into organic compounds like glucose, sucrose, glycerol, resveratrol, and curcumin. This method stands out for its potential to drastically reduce reliance on traditional raw materials, such as glucose, which have historically constrained the development of cell factories due to their high costs.
Beyond Traditional Cell Factories
Cell factories utilizing modified bacteria and yeast have made significant contributions to medicine, the chemical industry, and agriculture for decades. These facilities have been instrumental in producing vital substances, including recombinant human insulin, by harnessing the capabilities of organisms like Escherichia coli. However, the innovative use of cyanobacteria offers a novel solution to the limitations faced by traditional cell factories. With their ability to express most plant-derived genes and their small genome size facilitating easy modification, blue-green algae present an efficient and cost-effective alternative for the production of high-value compounds.
A Leap Forward with Engineered Cyanobacteria
The pioneering work of Chinese scientists, particularly the team led by Ni at the School of Life Sciences and Biotechnology under Shanghai Jiao Tong University, has been crucial in demonstrating the viability of using engineered blue-green algae for light-driven biosynthesis. Since 2015, their efforts have resulted in the production of a series of high value-added natural products, showcasing the promising potential of cyanobacteria in this field. The laboratory, with its rows of dense bottles and tubes filled with green liquid containing blue-green algae cells, serves as a testament to the progress made in this area.
Cyanobacteria: A Versatile and Efficient Choice
Cyanobacteria’s high photosynthetic efficiency and genetic malleability make them an excellent candidate for converting solar energy into high-value products, including plant secondary metabolites beneficial to human health. These prokaryotic organisms, which boast a cell structure typical for Gram-negative bacteria, have historically been referred to as blue-green algae due to their ability to color bodies of water in various hues of green and blue. Their distinct cell envelope, comprising the plasma membrane, peptidoglycan layer, outer membrane, and sometimes the surface or S-layer, further underscores their uniqueness and suitability for use in cell factories.
Embracing a Sustainable Future with Algae
The exploration of blue-green algae as a biological “cell factory” marks a significant leap towards sustainable and efficient production methods. By harnessing the power of photosynthesis and genetic engineering, Chinese scientists are at the forefront of creating a system where air can be converted into a range of organic compounds. This innovative approach not only offers a solution to the high costs associated with traditional cell factories but also aligns with global efforts towards environmental sustainability and resource conservation. As research progresses, the potential applications of cyanobacteria cell factories continue to expand, promising a future where the air we breathe becomes the key ingredient in producing the compounds that enhance our daily lives.