Algae have the advantage to let us address the localization issue much faster than in plants, thus speeding up the development processProf. Tomas Morosinotto, University of Padua (Italy)
A key aspect of the Gain4Crops project is the stepwise approach in which we first validate our findings in a set of model organisms of increasing cellular and anatomical complexity before moving to the final target – the sunflower. Our partners at the University of Padua are studying one of these model organisms: the microalga Nannochloropsis.
“This alga is key to study localization in the cell,” says Prof. Morosinotto. Indeed, before moving to algae, modifications are only tested in prokaryotes i.e., E. coli and cyanobacteria, which completely lack the cell organization in organelles. Nannochloropsis instead is a photosynthetic organism made of eukaryotic cells equipped with chloroplasts and mitochondria – like plants. “In eukaryotes, our modifications need to be localized in the right place to properly function. Algae have the advantage to let us address the localization issue much faster than in plants, thus speeding up the development process”.
Besides representing a test platform closer to the plant cell organization, algae are itself interesting products. Nannochloropsis for example is considered a promising alga for industrial applications because of its ability to accumulate high levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids or as sustainable fish-free feed for farmed fish. Currently, it is used as an energy-rich food source or as a food additive, but it has raised growing interest also for the investigation of biofuel production from photosynthetic organisms. With all these applications in mind, improving the algae biomass yield is indeed a fruitful side result of the project.