Algae makes regular appearances on these pages for its wealth of talents  – we even ran a story saying it can do pretty much anything.

Now researchers in America have developed technology which could help unlock its commercial potential as a sustainable biofuel. The teams from Texas A&M University and the Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) have created ‘algal droplet bioreactors on a chip’ which can help identify the best strain for biofuel production. Finding the algae genes most suited to being modified for this purpose is key and that takes time.

The chip system proved its worth by screening 200,000 ‘chemically mutated cells’ and ‘identifying six mutants with both faster growth and higher lipid content.’ Millions will need to be screened though to find the ‘super algal strain’ scientists are looking for.

Senior biologist and BTI President, David Stern said “The most extraordinary variants will be found in one in a million, or ten million, so the throughput needs to be accelerated.”

Work is ongoing to create the tools that can do this, including bigger chips that screen ‘millions of droplets in one experiment’.

“Such high-throughput technologies can rapidly accelerate the development process to obtain strains that are more efficient for use in biofuel production,” added senior author and engineer, Arum Han of Texas A&M University.

The research has been published in the journal Plant Direct.