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Algae biofuels: the wave of the future

April 04, 2012

Researchers at Virginia Bioinformatics Institute have assembled the draft genome of a marine algae sequence to aid scientists across the US in a project that aims to discover the best algae species for producing biodiesel fuel. The results have been published in Nature Communications.

The necessity of developing alternative, renewable fuel sources to prevent a potential energy crisis and alleviate greenhouse gas production has long been recognized. Various sources have been tried-corn for ethanol and soybeans for biodiesel, for example. But to truly meet the world's fuel needs, researchers must come up with a way to produce as much biofuel as possible in the smallest amount of space using the least amount of resources.

Enter algae. Unlike other crops like corn or soybeans, algae can use various water sources ranging from wastewater to brackish water and be grown in small, intensive plots on denuded land. While algae may still produce some C02 when burned, it can sequester C02 during growth in a way that fossil-fuel based energy sources obviously can't.

Scientists in VBI's Data Analysis Core (DAC), Robert Settlage, Ph.D., and Hongseok Tae, Ph.D., assisted in the assembly of the genome of Nannochloropis gaditana, a marine algae that may be capable of producing the lipid yields necessary for a viable fuel source.

"Getting the data is now the easy part. What we're doing in the DAC is enabling researchers to move beyond informatics issues of assembly and analysis to regain their focus on the biological implications of their research," said Settlage.

Further analysis revealed that with fairly straightforward genetic modification, N. gaditana should be capable of producing biofuel on an industrial scale, which may be the wave of the future in fuel research and production.


Radakovits, R. et al. Draft genome sequence and genetic transformation of the oleaginous alga Nannochloropis gaditana. Nat. Commun. 3:686 doi: 10.1038/ncomms1688 (2012).

About the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute
The Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech is a premier bioinformatics, computational biology, and systems biology research facility that uses transdisciplinary approaches to science, combining information technology, biology, and medicine. These approaches are used to interpret and apply vast amounts of biological data generated from basic research to some of today's key challenges in the biomedical, environmental, and agricultural sciences. With more than 320 highly trained multidisciplinary, international personnel, research at the institute involves collaboration in diverse disciplines such as mathematics, computer science, biology, immunology, biochemistry, systems biology, statistics, economics, synthetic biology, and medicine. The large amounts of data generated by this approach are analyzed and interpreted to create new knowledge that is disseminated to the world's scientific, governmental, and wider communities.

Virginia Bioinformatics Institute

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