Liveblogging JGI UserMeeting: Mike Mendez on algae energy



Sapphire energy, Mike Mendez, make fuel from the sun.

Ways to get energy. Go from sun, to corn, to fermentation, to hydrocarbons Also, you go from sun to plant to hydrocarbon.

Why algae? More biomass from algae than switchgrass, sugarcane, corn (50% vs <10%). Single-celled organism that doesn’t need to make flowers, stems, etc. How to make oil from algae? Well according to the numbers, 2-40% of the body mass is oil, so can make >5,000 gal/acre of oil… Now how to convert from POTENTIAL to ACTUAL production? Right now it doesn’t work, so how do go from algae to biodiesel?
“How to design a fuel crop – domesticate algae” (This will require wranglers I suspect to tame the wild beast!)
Example: it took 7k years to get from teosyntae to modern corn, “one of most important mutations is that corn kept kernels and didn’t drop them on the ground”

How to domesticate algae? (lots of corn examples; “algae will not be different” in terms of how to convert to agriculture)

  • need to grow monoculture
  • design a way to harvest and recover fuel in cost effective. Need to engineering strains that make this easier. Extract fuel from algae and get rid of water
  • GMO important.

Chlamydomonas – one of largest chloroplasts – 80% of cell. Also had 60 copies of the genome in chloroplast so had engineering to fix all of them. Will require classical breeding and genetic engineering approaches to achieve end.
“Areas that can be engineered into” – so basically where can they insert genes? Mitochondria, Nucleus, and Mitochondria.
Harder to engineer exactly what they want as homologous recombination doesn’t work yet. (did anyone knockout Ku? – is there Ku in plants?). RNAi silencing to silence genes as well as some possibility of chromatin silencing.
chloroplast transformation
One chloroplast per cell, but has 60 copies of the genome. DNA delivery by biolistics. No silencing in the chloroplast so easier to work with. Recombinant proteins can accumulate at high levels. Can make proteins in chloroplast that can’t be made elsewhere.
What makes them special there? – Can express things that would toxic to cell since these are compartmentalized. Wasn’t clear how secretion machinery works different or better in chloroplast but it must.
Biofuel applications
Want to make highly branched alkanes since they store lots of energy. “Carbon to Carbon” from CO2 to advanced oils. So it is important to be able to control carbon length – short carbon is gasoline. Showing data that can synthesize hydrocarbon in Chlamy “gene A, SC3 product”. Show expression of a synthase, that requires two genes, to make a C30 hydrocarbon. (learning hydrocarbon lingo!)

Mmm, green crude is what comes from the algae can then be piped into refineries. Can be piped directly into fuel refinement pipeline to make in one example, gasoline. Can make 91+ octane gasoline (a premium gasoline).

Making jet fuels. 600 gallons of JP8 for turbines which works for airplanes. Fly a continental airlines flight.

How to make commercial strains a reality? Need the JGI and many many algae genomes. 20+ genomes needed. Proteomics to mine for traits and I guess the genome helps map the genes involved in the trait. So bioprospect for new producers? There are 20+ other genomes and are in the queue already, but perhaps more strains.

Now what I wonder is what are the IP issues here. How do you get public support for genome sequences but then also need patentable products I assume? Pioneering new sciences.

What percentage of the biomass is oil? 30% 1 vial of gasoline shown, cost about $10M. The algae that was used to make fuel was not Chlamy.

Has to be salt water algae so that not competing with native. Engineer them as extremophiles.


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