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Rosetta Green, Seambiotic to Develop Algae Strains for Biofuel Production

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By Doug Macron

Rosetta Green, the newly minted subsidiary of Rosetta Genomics, announced this week that it has formed a partnership with marine microalgae producer Seambiotic to develop new algae strains for use in biofuel production.

"I have no doubt that biofuel from algae is currently the most promising potential alternative to fossil fuels," Rosetta Green CEO Amir Avniel said in a statement. "Most of the large oil companies in the world have already invested millions of dollars in the field due to its numerous advantages, especially as yields can be 300 to 500 fold higher than those of land plants."

Algae, Rosetta Green said, are considered a promising feedstock for "sustainable biofuel production as they do not require arable land or potable water for growth," and have "significantly higher biofuel productivity potential" than land crops.

According to Rudy Maor, head of research and development at Rosetta Green, the arrangement will initially focus on boosting the oil content of saltwater algae.

The company has already conducted initial work and identified a number of microRNAs and other small RNAs that appear to be associated with algae oil content, he told Gene Silencing News this week.

"We've already identified [a number of candidate] small RNAs, maybe of which 150 are putative microRNAs, and we have all the basic molecular biology tools in hand," Maor said. "Now, we're going to start to identify [which] of this repertoire of small RNAs and microRNAs are [most] involved in regulating oil content."

Under the terms of the deal, Rosetta will develop the algae strains, while Seambiotics will handle large-scale algae growth and biofuel production. The two have formed a joint steering committee that will oversee the program.

Rosetta Green said that the initial proof-of-concept phase is expected to last two years, during which time the partners will "explore the development of facilities for producing biofuel from algae on an industrial scale."

Maor, however, said that a "prototype" algae strain could be forthcoming as soon as six months into the deal.

"I say prototype rather than product because this is something that we'll initially [develop] on the small scale," he explained. "It will need to be tested on an industrial scale, and that depends on various factors, not all [of which] we have control over."

Rosetta Green noted that down the road, the companies could expand their efforts to include the development algae strains that are better equipped to withstand contamination.

Going Green

Rosetta Green was originally established as a unit of Rosetta Genomics in late 2008 as part of the parent company's bid to expand the use of its miRNA technologies and know-how in areas other than diagnostics and human therapeutics (GSN 10/30/2008).

“We have [the] platform technologies, experience, and know-how within Rosetta Genomics regarding the research and development of microRNAs … [and] wanted to seek other avenues where we could implement that knowledge and experience," he said at the time.

Since then, Rosetta Green has been spun out as an independent subsidiary, with 76 percent of its equity owned by Rosetta Genomics (GSN 6/3/2010).

Maor said that Rosetta Green is still housed within Rosetta Genomics' facilities, and the companies have a service agreement in place allowing the subsidiary to obtain "certain research-related and additional services" from its parent.

While biofuels have long been a primary focus of Rosetta Green, the company's other key interest is in up- or down-regulating miRNAs and other small RNAs to tweak the traits of crop plants.

"We have several proofs of concept already," Maor said, including "model plants with nice increased drought tolerance [that] we've generated by manipulating specific microRNAs. We also have some initial leads in other areas such as nitrogen use efficiency and yield.

"The idea is to develop proofs of concept in-house, make some progress, then collaborate with partners in that area," he added.

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