By Doug Macron
Rosetta Green said this week that it has been cleared to take part in a European Commission-funded project to explore the use of genetic modifications to improve algae for industrial applications such as biofuel and therapeutic protein production.
Specifically, Rosetta Green will identify microRNAs that could be used to develop algae that can produce therapeutic human proteins and growth hormone, an area in which the Israeli company is already working. In addition, it will expand its research to include essential fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamins, and pigments.
Called “Genetic Improvement of Algae for Value Added Products," the project is part of the EC's seventh framework program. It launched on Jan. 1 and is set to run for three years with funding of €5.6 million ($8.1 million).
“Microalgae are a highly promising resource for sustainable production of a wide variety of biomaterials for a wide range of applications,” according to the EC. “Microalgae can transform solar energy at high efficiency directly into valuable biological products using marginal water resources, waste nutrients, and exhaust CO2 without the [need] for high-value cropland.”
Additionally, certain eukaryotic microalgae are capable of producing “naturally valuable products” including “medically active” compounds, it added.
Nonetheless, cultivation and induction of such algal products is not without its difficulties. “Algae grow in diluted solutions and require large areas and water volumes, causing high cultivation and harvesting costs, and posing contamination problems and variable productivities due to climate variability,” the EC said.
To address these issues, the EC has funded the GIAVAP project to explore whether genetic modification can alter microalgae to better suit industrial applications.
“Due to the wide variability of algal strains under consideration, available techniques for genetic manipulations have to be adapted or developed for all … strains of interest,” it stated.
While project members will focus on adapting genetic engineering techniques for carotenoid and polyunsaturated fatty acid production and the over-expression of peptides of “commercial interest,” they will also develop “cultivation technologies, [and] harvesting and extraction methods for lipids, carotenioids, and proteins using existing model algae strains.” These techniques will then be applied to the improved strains, the EC said.
For its participation in the program, Rosetta Green said it will be awarded a reimbursement grant, without royalties, of €500,000, of which €138,000 is expected to be received by the end of the month. Notably, the funding will support certain work that the company has been already conducting on its own.
Shortly after being established as a subsidiary of Rosetta Genomics last year, Rosetta Green signed a deal with marine microalgae producer Seambiotic to develop new algae strains for use in biofuel production (GSN 7/29/2010).
Earlier this month, the company announced that it had begun exploring whether algae could be used to produce therapeutic human proteins, with a particular focus on recombinant protein alpha-GAL A as a treatment for Fabry disease (GSN 7/14/2011).
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