Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists genetically engineer 'magnetic' algae to study alternative, more efficient harvesting, lipid extraction to cut cost of algal biofuel production

Rachel Carter

Rachel Carter

Oct 21, 2011 – Los Alamos National Laboratory

LOS ALAMOS, New Mexico , October 21, 2011 (press release) – LANL scientists have genetically engineered "magnetic" algae to investigate alternative, more efficient harvesting and lipid extraction methods for biofuels. The researchers seek to reduce the cost of algae-based biofuel production.

Currently, used algae-harvesting and lipid-extraction technology accounts for almost 30 percent of the total cost of algae-based biofuel production. By inducing paramagnetic properties in algae, a permanent magnet-based separation could provide a low-cost alternative to current technologies.

How?

The project, led by Pulak Nath of the Lab's Applied Modern Physics group and Scott Twary of LANL's Biosecurity and Public Health group took a gene that is known to form magnetic nanoparticles in magnetotactic bacteria and expressed it in green algae. Magnetotactic bacteria are anaerobic microorganisms that follow the earth’s magnetic field to avoid exposure to oxygen. A permanent magnet can be used to separate the transformed algae from a solution.

The scientists think that the magnetic nanoparticles formed within the algae cause the cells to respond to magnetic fields. These biogenic magnetic nanoparticles could also be harvested separately and used as a valuable coproduct for biomedical imaging and cancer treatments.

Other LANL team members include student Maria Avrutsky and postdoctoral researcher Chaitanya Chandrana.

LANL has submitted a provisional patent application for the technology. LDRD funds the work, which supports the Lab’s Energy Security mission area and the Materials of the Future science pillar.

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