Research

Our research interest is in the area of microalgal biology and biotechnology. The goal is to understand lipid synthesis, turnover, and lipid body biogenesis in microalgae, to rationally engineer algae for biofuel and high-value products used in aquaculture and nutraceutical industry, and to biochemically convert algal feedstock into biofuels.

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Click on the figure above for the lipid synthesis pathways in microalgae (Li et al, 2013, Handbook of Microalgal Culture, 2nd Edition. Chapter 28)

Lipid synthesis, turnover, and lipid body biogenesis: We use the green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii and the marine oleaginous microalga Nannochloropsis oceanica as model systems. Our goal is to advance basic knowledge on photosynthetic carbon allocation and lipid metabolism in microalgae, particularly the molecular mechanisms regulating triacylglycerol synthesis and lipid body biogenesis (see the Figure above). We address these mechanisms using systems biology and molecular biology approaches.

Carbon sequestration and biofuels: The carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is increasing at an alarming rate, contributing to climate change that is causing damage to the world economy. We propose microalgae-based negative emission technology to sequester CO2 and remove it from atmosphere. Sequestered carbon will be reused as energy source or building blocks for other biological material.

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Engineering algae for biofuel and high value products: The low biomass and lipid productivity obtained from native algal strains is a major challenge for algae-based products. To overcome this problem, we have developed new tools and strategies to genetically engineer algal mutant strains with improved oil production. We have also physiologically and genetically manipulated selected algal strains (Haematococcus and Chlorella; see the Figure above) for astaxanthin production, a high-value carotenoid widely used in aquaculture and nutraceutical industry at >$2,500 per kg. Promising algal strains are tested in advanced bioreactors.

We are grateful to the following for funding support:

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