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5 December 2013 11:26 am ,
Vol. 342 ,
Thousands of scientists in the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) are about to lose their jobs as a result of the...
Dyslexia, a learning disability that hinders reading, hasn't been associated with deficits in vision, hearing, or...
Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
Researchers have sequenced and analyzed the first two snake genomes, which represent two evolutionary extremes. The...
Snake venoms are remarkably complex mixtures that can stun or kill prey within minutes. But more and more researchers...
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
Since arriving on the island of Guam in the 1940s, the brown tree snake ( Boiga irregularis ) has extirpated native...
An animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project filed lawsuits in three New York courts this week in an...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
- About Us
15 June 2001 7:00 pm
Injecting a gene from red blood cells gives microalgae the power to grow in the dark. Normally the microalgae rely on photosynthesis, but once reengineered, they can take up sugar for energy instead. Researchers hope to duplicate the process in other species, possibly opening the door to cheap mass production of algae-derived pharmaceuticals.
Like green plants, microalgae, also called diatoms, survive by converting sunlight into energy by photosynthesis. Corporations that want to mass-produce algae-derived products, such as antioxidants or other dietary supplements, must grow the algae in large outdoor ponds, which are susceptible to contamination and unpredictable weather. A cheaper, more efficient large-scale cultivation technique already exists: microbial fermenters, giant stainless steel tanks such as those used for growing bacteria or yeast. But most microalgae can't grow inside the dark tanks.
The first step toward growing microalgae without light was enabling the cells to take up glucose. A team led by molecular biologist Kirk Apt of Martek Biosciences Corp. in Columbia, Maryland, chose a human gene called Glut1 that allows red blood cells to absorb glucose. When transplanted, the team reports in the 15 June issue of Science, it conferred that ability on microalgae.
To Apt's surprise, no more engineering was necessary, since the newly equiped microalgae could grow as fast in the dark as they did in sunlight. Apparently, the microalgae already contained the cellular machinery necessary to process the glucose efficiently. Apt hopes to apply his discovery to commercially useful microalgae species--but other species may not be as cooperative. "I don't expect it's going to be so simple in every case," he says.
"Biology is full of surprises," says chemical engineer Gregory Stephanopoulos of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology of the finding that a photosynthetic organism could thrive on sugar. Although he calls the work "encouraging," he echoes Apt in suspecting that a single gene won't have as dramatic an effect on other photosynthetic organisms.