Tailored microalgae as a sustainable oil crop production platform

Project

Tailored microalgae as a sustainable oil crop production platform

We aim at understanding fundamental processes of metabolic networks involved in oil production in photosynthetic organisms. Obtained insights will be used to redirect metabolic fluxes within single cells and to alter their photosynthetic behaviour, thereby causing improved growth characteristics and oil productivities of mass cultures with a clear biotechnological orientation.

Long project description

Biologically produced oils have diverse applications. They can be used for the production of food, feed, cosmetics, biochemicals and biofuel. Establishing a sustainable bioeconomy will be indispensable in the long run. In this regard, oleaginous microalgae have great potential because they can be cultivated on non-arable land. However, not enough is known about the very essentials of cellular processes in industrially relevant strains.

Aim

We aim at understanding fundamental processes of metabolic networks involved in oil production in photosynthetic organisms. Obtained insights will be used to redirect metabolic fluxes within single cells and to alter their photosynthetic behaviour in a way that allows for improved growth characteristics and oil productivities of mass cultures with a clear biotechnological orientation.

Approach

This project focusses on Nannochloropsis oceanica, one of the most productive and robust marine microalgae known to date. We aim to push oil productivity beyond current state of the art, by utilising a multidisciplinary approach. Specifically, the impact of single gene mutations on the metabolic network of a cell will be assessed via traceable forward genetics and integrated into a novel genome-based metabolic model. Potential targets for added/altered network functions will be identified to guide metabolic engineering towards generation of improved algal strains with a prospective 2-fold increase in triacylglycerol (TAG) productivity, for instance through enhancement of photosynthetic properties or carbon partitioning. Detailed analysis on the characteristics of improved strains will be gathered from state-of-the-art lab-scale photobioreactors operated under simulated outdoor conditions, to evaluate the metabolic engineering strategies and to assess the industrial relevance of the developed strains.

In short, fundamental insights into the complex metabolic network of a photosynthetic cell will be gathered and harnessed for achieving industrial applicability of microalgal oil production.

Thesis project

There are different topics available for BSc or MSc thesis within the project. If you are interested, please feel free to contact me!