Supercharging Algae’s Ability To Produce Biofuels

Scientists in Japan have identified an enzyme in red algae that could help improve biofuel production.

AsianScientist (Aug. 28, 2018) – Researchers at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech), Japan, have identified an enzyme belonging to the glycerol-3-phosphate acyltransferase (GPAT) family as a promising target for increasing biofuel production by red algae (Cyanidioschyzon merolae). Their findings are published in Scientific Reports.

Algae are known to store up large amounts of oils called triacylglycerols (TAGs) under adverse conditions such as nitrogen deprivation. Understanding precisely how they do so is of key interest to the biotechnology sector, as TAGs can be converted to biodiesel. To this end, scientists are investigating the unicellular red alga C. merolae as a model organism for exploring how to improve TAG production.

In this study, a research group led by Associate Professor Sousuke Imamura at the Laboratory for Chemistry and Life Science of Tokyo Tech has demonstrated that an enzyme called GPAT1 plays an important role in TAG accumulation in C. merolae. They showed that TAG productivity could be increased by more than 56 times in a C. merolae strain overexpressing GPAT1 compared with the control strain, without any negative effects on algal growth.

“Our results indicate that the reaction catalyzed by the GPAT1 is a rate-limiting step for TAG synthesis in C. merolae, and would be a potential target for improving TAG productivity in microalgae,” said Imamura, highlighting that in their engineered strain, adverse conditions were no longer necessary to induce TAG production.

The team plans to continue exploring how GPAT1 and GPAT2 might both be involved in TAG accumulation. An important next step will be to identify transcription factors that control the expression of individual genes of interest.

“If we can identify such regulators and modify their function, TAG productivity will be further improved because transcription factors affect the expression of a wide range of genes, including GPAT1-related genes,” said the researchers. “This kind of approach, based on the fundamental molecular mechanism of TAG synthesis, should lead to successful commercial biofuel production using microalgae.”

The article can be found at: Fukuda et al. (2018) Accelerated Triacylglycerol Production Without Growth Inhibition by Overexpression of a Glycerol-3-phosphate Acyltransferase in the Unicellular Red Alga Cyanidioschyzon merolae.


Source: Tokyo Institute of Technology.
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