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Algae Altered to Spit Out More Lipids

Exxon Mobil and Synthetic Genomics have announced that they've been able to double the amount of lipids algae can produce in the lab, a precursor step to producing biodiesel, Reuters reports.

"Algae can be a viable, renewable source for volumes of oil at scale," Vijay Swarup, Exxon's vice president for research and development, tells Reuters. "We like algae because it's fast-growing, doesn't compete for food and water and can grow in all sorts of climates and brackish water."

According to Bloomberg, the researchers searched for gene regulators active during nitrogen starvation, a condition that leads algae to produce more oil. They then homed in on a regulator called ZnCys using the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technique. By altering ZnCys expression, the researchers could get the algae to convert 40 percent of the carbon dioxide it takes in to lipids, Bloomberg reports. Typical strains only convert about 15 percent to lipids

Bloomberg adds that the work is to be published next month in Nature Biotechnology.

"To my knowledge, no other group has achieved this level of lipid production by modifying algae, and there's no algae in production that has anything like this level," Craig Venter, the chair of Synthetic Genomics, tells Bloomberg. It's "our first super-strong indication that there is a path to getting to where we need to go."