(USA)

It would certainly be quicker to list what algae can’t do than what it can. The latest breakthrough by three American universities – in sequencing the genome of a type of alga – will support the development of advanced biofuels and new medicines.

The data gathered by biochemists from UC San Francisco, UC Berkeley and UCLA, is from the genome of a green alga named Chromochloris zofingiensis. This plant is particularly relevant to the production of sustainable biofuels as it produces a large amount of a compound called triacylglycerols, which is suited to making them.

It doesn’t need to be grown on land used for food crops either, wastewater will suffice. And one of the leading researchers on this project, Krishna Niyogi, a UC Berkeley professor of plant and microbial biology, said using it to produce biofuels could also help in progressing novel methods of green energy.

The astaxanthin that can be produced from Chromochloris zofingiensis, which sequencing will make it easier to engineer, is also a strong anti-inflammatory and is being studied for use in treatments for a range of diseases, including cancer and diabetes.

The power of algae is being harnessed by industries across the world. In Japan, for example, it is being used to produce jet fuel, while in Scotland it is being developed as the basis of a natural alternative to unpopular artificial colourants.