A new ‘Fingerprinting’ Identification tool to unlock Algae potential

10/06/2015 - 3 minutes

The world of Algae and Microalgae will be transformed thanks to the work of scientists of the Newcastle University and the Scottish Association for Marine Science. The same way people can be recognized by their fingerprints, the algae’s proteome is used as an identification to catalog them. Using this new approach instead of classical DNA markers and physical characteristics, researchers discovered new sub-groups and species. This tool could be an innovation accelerator for Algae & Microalgae science. 

The exploitation of marine and aquatic organisms for biotechnology applications has risen to the forefront of the global research agenda over the past decade. But, as Dr Gary Caldwell, a Senior Lecturer in Marine Science and Technology at Newcastle University, stated: “We’re only just beginning to understand the vast unlocked potential of algae as an energy source, a clean-up tool and as a food.” And Newcastle University just moved one step forward to improve our knowledge of this field.

Newcastle University and the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), were working on thirty-two algae that had all previously been catalogued under the same heading by analysing key DNA markers and physical characteristics. Researchers analysed the protein ‘fingerprint’ of thirty algae and found that they were actually divided into four distinct sub-groups.

Professor John Day of SAMS explained : “This fingerprinting will give us much more precise identification and even tell us where these strains have come from, in terms of family links. It can tell us what a cell is doing and what it’s made of.”

As Prof. Day also commented, this new screening tool is a very promising technique that could lead to scientists discovering new high value chemicals and toxins that may have gone undetected. Algae and cyanobacteria have already been shown to have huge potential, especially at a laboratory scale. Scientists discovered their ability to convert sunlight into biomass, their capacity to grow in saline or hypersaline environments and their capability to metabolize industrial and domestic waste. The field of algae and microalgae is very appealing to energy and ingredient industries. Many big stakeholders such as BP, Roquette and Craig Venter (through Genova Bio, a business unit of Synthetic Genomics) are moving in and a few leaders are emerging besides them. Amongst these leaders, some of them clearly stand out such as Algenol, who raised and granted around €230M; Sapphire Energy, who raised more than €267M; and Solazyme, which is already listed on NASDAQ with a market capitalization of €250M.

Within this trendy field, fingerprinting emerges as a tool to bring innovation to biotyping algae. Before that, algae banks needed to be re-labelled. The Culture Collection of Algae and Protozoa (CCAP) started this new trend and is now preparing its scientits to embark on the mammoth task of analysing and re-labelling CCAP’s 3,000-algae collection.

 

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