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Jan. 21, 2022

Recent algae discovery gives clues to boost biofuel production

A new study from the MSU Department of Energy Plant Research Laboratory shows how some algae can protect themselves when the oxygen they produce impairs their photosynthetic activity. The discovery also answers a long-standing question about how algae survive when CO2 levels are low.

The findings of this research from the David Kramer lab were recently published in eLife.

In photosynthesis, plants and algae use solar energy to take carbon dioxide from the air and synthesize sugars. This process produces oxygen as a byproduct, which earth’s animals depend on to breathe. However, oxygen impairs the activity of key photosynthetic reactions. When algae are grown in dense ponds for bioenergy production, this becomes an obstacle.

Algae are used as a crop for biofuels, a renewable energy resource. Growing algae for biofuel production can be sped up by fertilizing the cultures with CO2. However, when algal growth is increased, oxygen output from photosynthesis increases as well, which leads to an accumulation of oxygen in the culture. This exposure to excess oxygen is called hyperoxia.

“The overall goal was to understand how algae respond to hyperoxia, as a first step to making bioenergy strains that are more tolerant to such stresses and thus more productive,” said Peter Neofotis, a postdoctoral researcher in the Kramer lab and first author of the paper.

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