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B. braunii back in the spotlight for biofuels

July 30, 2013

Botryococcus braunii

Botryococcus braunii

Arecent research study examining algae as a renewable energy source took an in-depth look at the genetic structure of the unicellular green alga, Botryococcus braunii, for possible genetic engineering applications that could make it a viable biofuel. The results were published in the journal Phycologia, the official publication of the International Phycological Society.

Botryococcus braunii has previously been considered for large-scale biofuel production because of its extraordinary ability to synthesize large amounts of hydrocarbon oils. Several difficulties, however, were encountered in initial production and harvesting trials, diminishing the focus on this strain. This latest research reintroduces B. braunii as the “perfect” vehicle for genetic engineering applications when compared with three other species of green algae, five species of land plants, and eight other phyla species, including bacteria, archaea, fungi, and mammals.

The research focused on the codon usage, or DNA compatibility, of B. braunii with the other organisms. Codon usage for this particular alga is one of the fundamental genetic markers that had not been explored. Codons are greatly affected by the vast amount of guanines (G) and cytosines (C), two of the four nucleotides that make up a DNA molecule.

Many green algal species have high GC content, which causes codon usage bias, or poor compatibility, with other organisms. Surprisingly, B. braunii had comparatively low GC content and its codon usage was similar to that of bacteria, mammals, and land plants.

Although further study is necessary, the ability of B. braunii to synthesize hydrocarbons, combined with the newly discovered codon usage and GC content data, could lead to new genetic engineering techniques that could hasten biofuel development and production of this strain.

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