- Number 348 |
- October 17, 2011
LANL develops first genetically engineered "magnetic" algae
The photos show wild type algae
and magnetic algae placed in a
test tube next to a permanent
magnet. The wild type (left)
settles to the bottom of the tube
under the influence of gravity.
The genetically transformed
algae (right) stick to the wall
due to magnetic attractions.
Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory have genetically engineered "magnetic" algae to investigate alternative, more efficient harvesting and lipid extraction methods for biofuels. The researchers seek to reduce the cost of algae-based biofuel production.
Currently, used algae-harvesting and lipid-extraction technology accounts for almost 30 percent of the total cost of algae-based biofuel production. By inducing paramagnetic properties in algae, a permanent magnet-based separation could provide a low-cost alternative to current technologies.
The project, led by Pulak Nath of LANL's Applied Modern Physics (P-21) and Scott Twary of Biosecurity and Public Health (B-7) took a gene that is known to form magnetic nanoparticles in magnetotactic bacteria and expressed it in green algae. Magnetotactic bacteria are anaerobic microorganisms that follow the earth's magnetic field to avoid exposure to oxygen. A permanent magnet can be used to separate the transformed algae from a solution.
The scientists think that the magnetic nanoparticles formed within the algae cause the cells to respond to magnetic fields. These biogenic magnetic nanoparticles could also be harvested separately and used as a valuable coproduct for biomedical imaging and cancer treatments.
Other team members include student Maria Avrutsky (B-7) and postdoctoral researcher Chaitanya Chandrana (P-21).LANL has submitted a provisional patent application for the technology. LDRD funds the work, which supports the Lab's Energy Security mission area and the Materials of the Future science pillar.
[Nancy Ambrosiano, 505.667.0471,