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Institute of Advanced Study

IAS Staff

Publication details for Prof. Chris Greenwell

Flynn, K.J., Mitra, A., Greenwell, H.C. & Sui, J. (2013). Monster potential meets potential monster: pros and cons of deploying genetically modified microalgae for biofuels production. Interface Focus 3(1): 20120037.

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

Biofuels production from microalgae attracts much attention but remains an unproven technology. We explore routes to enhance production through modifications to a range of generic microalgal physiological characteristics. Our analysis shows that biofuels production may be enhanced ca fivefold through genetic modification (GM) of factors affecting growth rate, respiration, photoacclimation, photosynthesis efficiency and the minimum cell quotas for nitrogen and phosphorous (N : C and P : C). However, simulations indicate that the ideal GM microalgae for commercial deployment could, on escape to the environment, become a harmful algal bloom species par excellence, with attendant risks to ecosystems and livelihoods. In large measure, this is because an organism able to produce carbohydrate and/or lipid at high rates, providing stock metabolites for biofuels production, will also be able to attain a stoichiometric composition that will be far from optimal as food for the support of zooplankton growth. This composition could suppress or even halt the grazing activity that would otherwise control the microalgal growth in nature. In consequence, we recommend that the genetic manipulation of microalgae, with inherent consequences on a scale comparable to geoengineering, should be considered under strict international regulation.

Contact Details

Institute of Advanced Study
Durham University
Cosin's Hall
Palace Green
Durham 
DH1 3RL
Telephone: +44 (0)191 334 2589
Email: enquiries.ias@durham.ac.uk