Enzyme Could Boost Biofuels

Wednesday, April 13, 2016 @ 03:04 PM gHale


A common algae could help in making an environmentally friendly fuel.

Researchers were able to isolate the enzyme in botryococcus braunii, a common algae known for its hydrocarbon production. The researchers, from Texas A&M University, the University of Arizona, Japan Science and Technology, and China’s Biotechnology, successfully isolated the enzyme responsible for this hydrocarbon production and are looking to use it to make mass produced biofuels.

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Biofuels are a form of hydrocarbons derived from biological processes sources. They require combustion and are not as environmentally friendly as solar or wind power, but they are compatible with existing oil and gas-based fuel infrastructure

Botryococcus braunii is a pyramid-shaped algae found almost worldwide and is capable of producing hydrocarbons as part of its standard metabolism. These hydrocarbons account for up to 40 percent of the organism’s dry weight, and also end up excreted outside the cell. Though capable of making hydrocarbons that can be a fuel source, they don’t produce enough of it to be a suitable supply of commercial biofuels. Despite this limitation, scientists still are interested in studying the algae and exploring the mechanism by which it produces its hydrocarbons.

Researchers report in a study the discovery of an enzyme called lycopaoctaene synthase, which is in oil production. Inside the slow growing Botryococcus braunii, lycopaoctaene synthase only produces a small yield of hydrocarbon, but it is capable of much more. Once the enzyme is inserted into a faster-growing organism, researchers can use the system to increase the rate of production of the hydrocarbon.

“Maybe if we can transfer the genetic information to make these oils into quicker-growing organisms like other algae that grow a lot quicker or a land plant that can produce large amounts of biomass, we can have them produce oil for us,” said author and Texas A&M scientist Timothy Devarenne who was part of the research team.