Ecological engineering helps maximize function in algal oil production

Sara L. Jackrel, Anita Narwani, Bastian Bentlage, Robert B. Levine, David C. Hietala, Phillip E. Savage, Todd H. Oakley, Vincent J. Denef, Bradley J. Cardinale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Algal biofuels have the potential to curb the emissions of greenhouse gases from fossil fuels, but current growing methods fail to produce fuels that meet the multiple standards necessary for economical industrial use. For example, algae grown as monocultures for biofuel production have not simultaneously and economically achieved high yields of the high-quality lipid-rich biomass desired for the industrial-scale production of bio-oil. Decades of study in the field of ecology have demonstrated that simultaneous increases in multiple functions, such as the quantity and quality of biomass, can occur in natural ecosystems by increasing biological diversity. Here, we show that species consortia of algae can improve the production of bio-oil, which benefits from both a high biomass yield and a high quality of biomass rich in fatty acids. We explain the underlying causes of increased quantity and quality of algal biomass among species consortia by showing that, relative to monocultures, species consortia can differentially regulate lipid metabolism genes while growing to higher levels of biomass, in part due to a greater utilization of nutrient resources. We identify multiple genes involved in lipid biosynthesis that are frequently upregulated in bicultures and further show that these elevated levels of gene expression are highly predictive of the elevated levels in biculture relative to that in monoculture of multiple quality metrics of algal biomass. These results show that interactions between species can alter the expression of lipid metabolism genes and further demonstrate that our understanding of diversity-function relationships from natural ecosystems can be harnessed to improve the production of bio-oil.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere00953-18
JournalApplied and environmental microbiology
Issue number15
StatePublished - Aug 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biotechnology
  • Food Science
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Ecology


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