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Scientists trick algae's biological clock to create valuable compounds

Nov. 7, 2013 at 4:53 PM   |   Comments

NASHIVILLE, Tenn., Nov. 7 (UPI) -- Tricking the biological clock in algae can boost valuable compounds the marine plants produce when grown in constant light, U.S. researchers say.

Causing algae's biological clock to remain in daytime mode can increase production of compounds useful in biofuels and drugs, Vanderbilt University biologists reported Thursday.

When the biological clocks of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) were stopped in their daylight setting, the amount of several biomolecules they were genetically altered to produce increased by as much as 700 percent when grown in constant light, they said.

"We have shown that manipulating cyanobacteria's clock genes can increase its production of commercially valuable biomolecules," biological sciences Professor Carl Johnson said. "In the last 10 years, we have figured out how to stop the circadian clocks in most species of algae and in many higher plants as well, so the technique should have widespread applicability."

Researchers have mapped the entire clock mechanism in cyanobacteria, which is the simplest bioclock found in nature, and identified proteins that can be manipulated to switch the clock on and off.

Bioclock stopping could have significant economic benefits, they said; microalgae are used for a wide variety of commercial applications ranging from anti-cancer drugs to cosmetics to bioplastics and biofuels.

The study, in collaboration with Waseda University in Tokyo and the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Md., was published in the journal Current Biology.

Topics: Carl Johnson
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