Stephen Mayfield, UC San Diego, Molecular and synthetic biology for improve production of biofuels and bioproducts in micro-algae

Event Dates: February 7, 2014 - 4:00pm - 5:00pm

Stephen P. Mayfield, Director, San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology and
Professor, Division of Biological Sciences
University of California, San Diego
La Jolla, CA 92093-0322

Fuel, food, and all biological products are all different forms of chemical energy, and as such are closely related. All of these products are ultimately derived from photosynthesis, the process by which sunlight energy is converted to chemical energy. Over the last 100 years we have exploited cheap fossil fuels to drive unprecedented economic and agricultural growth, but in so doing we have released sequestered CO2 into the atmosphere, which is now beginning to impact our climate. In addition, fossil fuel reserves are finite, and we are now starting to see the initial signs of depletion of these reserves, including the rising cost of fuel and food. Together these factors have provided the impetus behind the development of new renewable energy sources that can supplant fossil fuels while greatly reducing carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Eukaryotic algae offer tremendous potential for the large scale production of biofuels and bio-products as algae require only sunlight as an energy source and sequester CO2 during the production of biomass, and algae can be much more efficient then terrestrial plants in fixing CO2 and producing biomass. Using “designed for purpose” photosynthetic organisms we have the opportunity to develop production platforms for fuel and food that have unmatched efficiencies and productivities. We are developing the genetic and synthetic biology tools to enable the production of designer algae as a bio-fuels and bio-products platform. The challenges, potential, and some early successes of synthetic biology in algae for the production of high value products will be discussed.