Algae may hold the key to feeding the world’s burgeoning population. Don’t worry; no one is going to make you eat them. But because they are more efficient than most plants at taking in carbon dioxide from the air, algae could transform agriculture.
If their efficiency could be transferred to crops, we could grow more food in less time using less water and less nitrogen fertilizer.
New work from a team led by Carnegie’s Martin Jonikas published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals a protein that is necessary for green algae to achieve such remarkable efficiency. The discovery of this protein is an important first step in harnessing the power of green algae for agriculture.
It all starts with the world’s most abundant enzyme, Rubisco.
Crops with improved yields could more easily become a reality, thanks to a development by scientists.
Researchers studying a biological process that enables tiny green algae to grow efficiently have taken the first steps to recreating the mechanism in a more complex plant.
Their findings could lead to the breeding of high yield varieties of common crops such as wheat, rice and barley.
Algae cells are known to have a specialised mechanism that boosts their internal concentration of carbon dioxide during photosynthesis.
Transdisciplinary artist and researcher Ivan Henriques collaborated with scientists from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam to create a prototype for an autonomous bio-machine that harvests energy from photosynthetic organisms like algae and uses this energy to search for more of these organisms.
The Symbiotic Machine targets organisms that are found in water bodies like ponds, canals, rivers and the sea. It creates a symbiotic system with its environment as it detects, collects, carries, and processes these organisms. The machine can clean the environment of its location by collecting these organisms for energy and can potentially be used in places with harmful algae bloom.
The machine prototype focuses on detecting a specific algae, Spirogyra, a genus of filamentous green algae. The structure is designed to float in the water among the algae and is transparent in order to catch sunlight at any angle. The machine also has a mouth that takes in and grinds the algae to break down the membrane cells and release micro particles, and a stomach where the energy is harvested. The Symbiotic Machine is programmed to eat, move, sunbathe, rest, search for food, wash itself, and do it all over again on loop.