Berkeley Lab Scientists Develop New Way to Study Inner-Workings of Algae Cells
by Dan Krotz (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory) Molecular transporter could advance development of algae-based biofuels, pharmaceuticals
Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and Stanford University have developed a way to send molecules and proteins across the cell wall of algae, a feat that opens the door for a new way to study and manipulate these tiny organisms.
In recent years, algae have become a hot prospect as a way to synthesize biofuels, chemical building blocks, vaccines, pharmaceuticals, and other useful compounds. The idea is to engineer algae to secrete fuel for your car or other compounds using sunlight as an energy source and carbon dioxide as a carbon source.
But before scientists learn the best ways to harness the power of algae, they must first gain a better understanding of what happens inside algae cells. They must also learn how to optimize the inner-workings of algae for the production of biofuels and other applications.
This requires slipping molecular-sized cargo inside algae cells to track metabolic changes and the flux of carbon, or to tweak the cell’s energy-producing mechanisms. And this is where the going gets difficult. Algae cells are protected by a double defense—an outer wall and lipid membrane—that blocks unwanted molecules from getting inside.
Now, Berkeley Lab scientists have broken the algae barrier. They’ve shown that a specially developed molecular transporter can deliver small molecules, and larger molecules such as proteins, through the cell wall and membrane of certain species of algae. READ MORE