Microalgae for biotechnology and bioenergy applications

The molecular biology and biotechnology research programs with microalgae aim to explore the potential of these unicellular phototrophic organisms as green cell factories to efficiently convert sun light energy into biomass, bioenergy and high value products.

Previous and Current Research

Microalgae are plant-like phototrophic organisms, increasing ly emerging as natural catalysts for solar energy conversion into biomass and biofuels, for bio-degradation approaches and for the production of pharmaceutical products. In current molecular biology and biotechnology research, these unicellular organisms are playing a substantial role to elucidate the impact of photosynthetic CO2 fixation and sun light energy transition and its complex cellular regulation as a fun damental basis for targeted process optimization.

Our research focus at the CeBiTec is on understanding elementary regulatory aspects of sun-to-biomass conversion via photosynthesis in microalgae and identifying, characterizing and optimizing potential bottlenecks such as light harvesting. In a parallel research stream we characterize and systematically improve direct and indirect solar energy conversion into gaseous and liquid biofuels using advanced molecular biology tools. This is of particular relevance, since the development of clean fuels is of vital importance to human and environmental health and global prosperity, more than almost any single issue facing mankind today. Bioenergy production is currently not competitive to fossil fuels without subsidization, because production costs are still too high and the technology still is in its infancy. Today bioenergy concepts with microalgae can only be commercially viable in multi-stage biorefineries in which microalgae are preliminary used as green single cell production factories before the residual algal biomass can be converted into ready-to-use fuels like biodiesel or biomethane. A number of potential products from microalgae have been identified so far, such as hydrogen, sulfated polysaccharides, lipids and fatty acids, pigments or other bioactive molecules. The integration of such products into biorefineries are continuously being tested in our group at the CeBiTec.

Future Projects and Aims

Our main research goal is to identify new algae strains with better production performance in systematic forward genetics screens and to directly construct high efficiency strains by genetic engineering in reverse genetic approaches using the unicellular microalga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. The basis for these projects is the CeBiTec technology platform with its –omics technologies and bioinformatics support which we use for our Systems Biology strategies in order to elucidate the regulatory network of light harvesting, and to establish metabolic flow models of algal biofuel production pathways.

Latest Publications of the Group