SYMP 12-4 - Engineering phytoplankton communities for production and resilience in biofuels

Wednesday, August 10, 2011: 9:20 AM
Ballroom F, Austin Convention Center
Jonathan B. Shurin, Ecology, Behavior and Evolution, University of California- San Diego, La Jolla, CA

The ecological principles surrounding the relationships among diversity, productivity and grazing control of autotrophs have major implications for biofuel production. Unicellular phytoplankton are much more productive than terrestrial plants due to their small size, short generation times and rapid turnover, and are therefore attractive sources of lipids for use in transportation fuels. These same features, along with their cosmopolitan dispersal, also make them vulnerable to invasion by wild competitors and natural enemies.  I describe research aimed at identifying the life history and biochemical traits of algae related to their performance of several functions related to their potential as biofuel agents.


My lab is comparing growth curves along gradients of mineral nutrient and energy supply, resistance to top-down control by grazing and invasion by wild competitors, and cellular lipid content of diverse algal strains grown in mono-culture and polyculture.  Our goal is to identify characteristics of strains, species and communities that enhance their productivity in terms of lipids as well as biomass and resilience against invasion by competitors and consumers.  An ecological approach to phytoplankton aquaculture as a source of transportation energy may demand lower inputs of materials, fertilizers and chemical ingenuity than an approach based on solely on genetic engineering of strains with desirable properties.  I discuss some of the potential and challenges for implementing ecological principles in algae biofuel.

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