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Genetics of Microorganisms
Sunbiopath
Research area: KBBE-2009-3-2-02
Sustainable use of seas and oceans -
Biomass from micro- and macro-algae for industrial applications

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Acronym : SUNBIOPATH
- towards a better sunlight to biomass conversion efficiency in microalgae -

Context
In its letter of September 2008, The European Science Foundation points out that solar energy conversion and nuclear fusion appear to be the most favourable solutions to achieve clean energy solution and that Europe cannot afford not to lead the development of new technologies for clean energy. It recommends the use of microorganisms for solar-to-fuel conversion (Science policy briefing of September 2008, European Science Foundation). In addition, this science policy briefing also points out that photosynthetic microorganisms are attractive because they are able to simultaneously catalyze the light-driven oxidation of water and carbon fixation, and at the same time produce valuable ingredients for food and pharmaceuticals.

However, the mechanism of photosynthesis in plants has remained at the same efficiency level over the last millions of years, and is not necessarily optimized for maximal biomass generation. In order to use photosynthetic organisms for sunlight to biomass conversion, light capture and energy conversion in bulk culture needs to be more efficient, and biochemical pathways and signaling mechanisms that influence photosynthate production need to be identified and, if possible, improved. In addition, the commercial production of valuable products from photosynthetic microorganisms using genetic engineering approaches still requires significant technological improvements.


Summary
SUNBIOPATH - towards a better sunlight to biomass conversion efficiency in microalgae - is an integrated program of research aimed at improving biomass yields and valorisation of biomass for two Chlorophycean photosynthetic microalgae, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii and Dunaliella salina. Biomass yields will be improved at the level of primary processes that occur in the chloroplasts (photochemistry and sunlight capture by the light harvesting complexes) and in the cell (biochemical pathways and signalling mechanisms that influence ATP synthesis).
Optimal growth of the engineered microalgae will be determined in photobioreactors, and biomass yields will be tested using a scale up approach in photobioreactors of different sizes (up to 250 L), some of which being designed and built during SUNBIOPATH. Biomethane production will be evaluated. Compared to other biofuels, biomethane is attractive because the yield of biomass to fuel conversion is higher. Valorisation of biomass will also be achieved through the production of biologicals. Significant progress has been made in the development of chloroplast genetic engineering in microalgae such as Chlamydomonas, however the commercial exploitation of this technology still requires additional research.
SUNBIOPATH will address the problem of maximising transgenic expression in the chloroplast and will develop a robust system for chloroplast metabolic engineering by developing methodologies such as inducible expression and trans-operon expression. A techno economic analysis will be made to evaluate the feasibility of using these algae for the purposes proposed (biologicals production in the chloroplast and/or biomethane production) taking into account their role in CO2 mitigation.

 

Coordinator : Claire Remacle
Department of Life Sciences, Institute of Botany, B22,
27, Bld du rectorat, University of Liège, B-4000 Liège, Belgium
Phone:+32-4-3663812     Fax: +32-4-3663840
E-mail: c.remacle@ulg.ac.be

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Genetics of Microorganisms


May 20, 2010- P. Cardol
Last modifications : April 27, 2011