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RELEVANCE

Global fossil fuels supplies dwindling


SUSTAINABILITY

Fast-growing, easily utilised marine algae which fix carbon dioxide


BIOTECHNOLOGY

Oil production from cultivated micro-organisms


BIOFUEL

Energy readily convertible from marine plants

International Plant Lipids meeting in Australia

On 11-16th July Dr Steve Slocombe attended the 19th International Symposium on Plant Lipids held in Cairns, Australia

On 11-16th July Dr Steve Slocombe attended the 19th International Symposium on Plant Lipids held in Cairns (North Queensland, Australia) and was invited to speak on genetic factors that regulate oil accumulation in marine micro-algae. The ISPL is a bi-annual meeting and is the principal forum for plant lipid scientists. Key areas were large scale transcriptomics, membrane lipid re-modelling and transport, lipids as signal molecules and oil production in leaves. This year there was a session devoted to algal biotechnology, reflecting a burgeoning interest in this area.

The keynote presentation from Paul Roessler of Synthetic genomics reviewed synthesis of new organisms and also showed that our knowledge of lipid biochemistry in micro-algae is still fragmentary, research has generally focussed on higher plants. The issue of public access to micro-algal genomic information was raised in this session given the major involvement of private companies. Some research labs are deciding to go it alone and produce genomes for immediate public access. The cost of producing biodiesel from micro-algae in Australia was discussed by David Batten of CSIRO, Melbourne, suggesting that valuable side-products are required to make the process economically viable, given estimates of 1-2 US$/litre even in this ideal location. Several poster presentations grappled with the problem of evaluating micro-algal screens for oil using multiple criteria (yield, composition, growth rates etc.). A few dealt with alternatives to auxotrophic growth, such as a heterotroph capable of utilizing glycerol, the waste product from biodiesel manufacture.




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