Photosynthetic organisms are promising sources for sustainable solutions to help meet the growing global needs for energy and products. Microalgae utilize solar energy, consume CO2 , can be cultivated on non-arable land and grow quickly. Algae can reveal new biological insights for more cost-effective biofuel and bioproduct opportunities, particularly when combined with bioengineering to reroute metabolism toward bioproducts for energy, food or pharmaceuticals. The unicellular green algae, Chromochloriszofingiensis and Auxenochlorella protothecoides, have strong economic potential because they are amongstthe highest producers of triacylglycerols (TAG), the preferred precursor for biofuels. Moreover, in C.zofingiensis, high accumulation of TAG can be paired with amassing large amounts of the commercially valuable antioxidant astaxanthin and increasing biomass. In this project, we will identify and distinguish key molecular pathways, metabolites, and regulatory factors involved in carbon utilization and thereby,redirecting the carbon flux towards TAG/astaxanthin production. First-time undergraduate researchers will work alongside a postdoctoral student to identify and characterize various signaling pathways regulating TAG production.
The primary project will involve a understanding signaling pathways using biochemical and physiological assays. Mentees will learn to do techniques such as 1) Protein analysis techniques such as SDS-PAGE and western blotting, 2)various assays to monitor TAG and astaxanthin accumulation such as TLC, HPLC etc, and 3) Analysis ofphotosynthetic efficiency by chlorophyll fluorescence. Additional biochemical techniques, as well as opportunities forindependent research projects, may also be incorporated based on mentee interest and as the project develops.
Minimum qualifications: Biology 1A or 1B (may be taken concurrently), 3.0 GPA, and interest in genetics. Hours are negotiable, but a commitment of at least 12 hours per week is expected.