Chlamydomonas reinhardtii

As our planet’s fossil fuel supply diminishes, the need for a sustainable substitute for oil becomes a more and more prominent issue in the scientific community and the world. Special attention has been paid to algal lipid-production as a solution to this problem by Sapphire Energy, a San Diego company which has developed its very own type of oil called Green Crude. Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, or “Chlamy”, is the species of algae that was selected for developing this oil due to its nature as a model organism and the consequently large amount of information known about it, as well as its flexible resource requirements. In the production of Green Crude, Chlamy is cultivated in non potable water in desert climates, harvested, and refined in a plant like any other oil. Once a cycle has been completed, the oil can be substituted for any other oil product such as diesel or jet fuel without any change in mechanical infrastructure. The convenience with which Chlamy can be grown—requiring no extra food and in a condensed environment—and the ease of introducing it to current systems without requiring capital to mechanically change those systems makes Green Crude an especially viable option for introduction to the oil market. However, although there are many handy aspects of Chlamy’s environmental needs, economic barriers currently prohibit Green Crude from becoming a substantial provider of clean fuel. While fossil fuel is incredibly cheap to purchase, difficulties in controlling outside environmental factors have made growing algae and producing Green Crude much less cost effective. The purpose of researching Chlamy is to further elucidate its regulatory network of lipid production and manipulate that network through controlled experiments to find the optimal conditions for maximum lipid production. If Green Crude’s efficacy is dramatically improved, its potential for success in the modern oil market will be significantly increased.

Daaniya and Anne have aided in the development of a growth-chamber for the cultivation of Chlamy, the construction of photobioreactors for controlled algal growth, and various growth-curve tests to examine how Chlamy reacts to different environmental conditions. Their first experiment involved the testing of two mutants against a wild-type strain, during which triplicates of all three strains were tested daily for optical density, relative fluorescence (lipids), cell counts, ammonia and pH. After ten days of testing, Daaniya and Anne compiled and analyzed their results in an 11-page paper, and presented it to a group of Sapphire Energy partners and collaborators. They also helped run an ammonia-starvation test and a sulfate-starvation test to analyze Chlamy growth and lipid production after a set period of time without the particular nutrient.

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