First, the bad news: because of climate change and worsening water pollution, algae, the world’s fastest-growing photosynthetic organisms, are proliferating worldwide. A few of these are of the toxic blue-green variety.
The good news is that some strains of algae can be converted into an alternative source of renewable energy that is commercially viable.
“Newly trialled native species provide real hope,” says Evan Stephens of Queensland University’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience and manager of the Solar Biofuels Research Centre.
“There are roughly 350,000 species of algae – more than all higher plants – around the world,” he says. By isolating strains from native Australian waters, and then screening them against a set of criteria for producing fuel, scientists can breed new and improved varieties.
“By new strains, we mean algae varieties that have not been previously isolated, characterised and identified for fuels,” Dr Stephens says.
Genetic engineering helps scientists determine traits that may improve yields and other qualities. “But in most cases we can go back and rescreen libraries of isolates for these characteristics which are naturally occurring,” he explains.
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